CDMA shutdown: Rural communities left in black spots

Summary:The official word from Telstra and the Federal government is that the Next G Network provides equivalent or superior coverage to CDMA. Try telling that to the people of Mangoplah, NSW.

is that there is no promise from Telstra to extend the coverage," she said. The problem is steeped in history. To justify the privatisation of Telstra, a decision Hull opposed, the Howard government spent exorbitant amounts of money -- running into the billions -- on programs to guarantee communications in regional areas.

The "absolute majority" of this funding, through programs such as The Australian Communications Fund and the Networking the Nation program -- went to Telstra. Around AU$200 million was used to prop up the CDMA network.

"Telstra were given an extraordinary funding capacity," Hull says. "They didn't use their money to build the CDMA network up to speed -- they used government money."

Prior to these funding arrangements, Hull says, regional communities without coverage were expected to fund towers themselves. But at today's price of AU$500,000 to AU$800,000 per base station - she doesn't see anybody stepping up to the plate to pay for them.

"Telstra is telling us they don't know where funding will come from, but we know it won't be from their shareholders. The volumes just aren't big enough to guarantee a short-term return. And I can't see the ALP government subsidising base stations. The interest earnings from the Future Fund was supposed to be used to keep rural technology up to scratch, but the ALP government intends to raid that fund for a fibre-to-the-node network -- which is another blow to the bush -- as it simply won't reach regional and rural Australia."

Dwyer says that the community of Mangoplah can't possibly be expected to finance a base station. But they are prepared to meet Telstra halfway. One farmer has offered Telstra "a patch of dirt" on a hill on his property. Nathan Stoll has offered to run power to it.

"We are proposing that Telstra can have that patch of dirt for a dollar, and they can build a base station on it," Dwyer says.

Irskine has also offered to help in whatever way he can -- informing Telstra of two local exchanges within the affected area in Benerembah that could be used for a tower.

"It would take a 15 or 20-metre tower -- the power, the rest of the infrastructure is already there," he says.

"But Telstra don't want to do that. The bottom line is number one for Telstra. They don't give a stuff about customers."

Topics: Telcos, Broadband, Government : AU, Telstra

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