Interview with Paddy & Rob, Triple M Central Coast

PADDY GERRARD, HOST: And she's become a friend of the show. Michelle, good morning.



GERRARD: How you going?

ROWLAND: Excellent, thanks.

GERRARD: I think we spoke last year, especially about Lower Mangrove. Well, Wayne called us to keep. us up to date. He rang last week, this is what he had to say.

CALLER WAYNE: So last night when I got home from work, landlines down, mobile networks down, internet’s down, so had to drive 20 km back up the Mangrove Mountain to make a phone call to report our landline was out.

GERRARD: Yeah, I know we spoke last time that applications were closed for the next round of the Mobile Blackspots Program and the Regional Connectivity Program.

PALMER: The ball was rolling. But we're just wondering, I guess, where the ball has got to and how much speed it's gaining?

ROWLAND: Sure thing. Well, the good news is the Mangrove Mountain site that actually has been funded under our election commitments and applications are open for the carriers now. They close in a couple of weeks, so we expect to see some applications from the carriers towards building that. So that's a co-investment between the Federal Government and whichever carriers apply for that. So that's good news.

GERRARD: Good news!

ROWLAND: The other bit of good news is that last week I opened the latest round of $150 million to cover black spots, as well as bespoke connectivity improvements. So that's now open and I encourage your listeners to go to the Department of Communications Notice Board. We're in a phase now called the pre-application phase. So, the Department has guidelines, so local councils, residents, small businesses, community groups, it's great if they could go onto that Notice Board – because the more support we see for particular sites, the more carriers are interested and the better results we can get for people. So, I want to ensure your listeners we are progressing this. I completely understand what Wayne is saying. I had a consumer roundtable last week and it'll be no surprises to your listeners that the single biggest issue that's being raised with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is mobile coverage. It is a very high priority for us to not only get this rollout done, but look at what is slowing it down as well. In some cases, it's pretty lengthy and cumbersome council approval processes. I'm really focussed on getting this done better. This whole regime was designed in a time when Telecom was just rolling out copper lines and not mobile services. But as you and all your listeners know, we rely on our mobile so much now.

GERRARD: Yeah, well, Michelle, even Luke from Copacabana called this morning. Oh, he's from Terrigal. And in populated areas like Copa, this is what Luke had to say.

CALLER LUKE: I live in Copacabana, and if you go down to Copa shop and get a coffee like I do most Saturday mornings, there's 1 bar of 3G down there, when you're inside getting a coffee. I mean, the phone reception has always been bad up there and it only seems to be getting worse.

GERRARD: So, there are many areas.

PALMER: It happens also in Terrigal, Wamberal, there's so many places the population growth is far outpacing the advancement of technology in the area, and people are getting frustrated. And sometimes it can be desperate. If there's been an accident and you're at Lower Mangrove, you can't even call emergency services.

ROWLAND: Absolutely. And this is a safety issue, as well as a work and convenience one. I also want to assure your listeners I'm regularly in contact with Telstra, Optus and TPG, and I know there was a particular complaint around some of those towers. Optus has repaired faults there. But it's really useful that your listeners put out these calls because that's how we can alert the carriers and get improvements done.

But also, exactly as you say, as you have more populations and we have more peri-urban areas, including the Central Coast, including some parts of South and North-West Sydney, we have requirements to put in water and electricity. There's actually no requirement to put in mobile coverage. So, I've been engaging with local councils because I think this is an area that's really been overlooked. I'm looking forward to working with the New South Wales Government because we really can't go around just trying to keep retrofitting everything. We've got to think about the future as well.

PALMER: It's no longer a backwater. This is a burgeoning metropolis now on the Central Coast and there's more and more people every month.

ROWLAND: Absolutely right. And it is a very similar situation to the Central Coast as it's happening in those growth areas around the South-West. A lot of your listeners would be aware of say, Oran Park or some of those new areas. And again, it's so frustrating for people, they expect when they move into a new area that you'll have mobile coverage and it's a legitimate expectation. I am working really hard with the local councils to get some improvements here because it can be that site acquisition and the development application process through council that really holds things up when we know a lot of the time the carriers want to roll out, people want this connectivity, and we got to remove those roadblocks.

GERRARD: Oh, that's good news. Well, Michelle, we will probably speak to you in the next couple of months, see how things are rolling along. But it's good that you're on the ball, you're on the case, and -

PALMER: We appreciate your time and effort.

GERRARD: Yeah. Thank you, Michelle.

ROWLAND: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Have a great day.