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Not so splendid: Telstra looked to charge festival for mobile coverage

Telstra sought to charge promoters of the Splendour in the Grass music festival to supply mobile cells on wheels to the festival's grounds north of Byron Bay.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Update: Telstra has backed off from plans to charge Splendour in the Grass organisers for expanded mobile coverage for the festival.

The festival, held over the last three days in July, is based in grounds to the north of Byron Bay in Northern New South Wales. The location means that mobile towers aren't equipped to handle the tens of thousands of people who travel to the festival each year, compared to the relatively quiet periods in other times of the year.

Last year, Telstra deployed two 4G-enabled cells on wheels (known as CoWs) to add capacity into the network to be able to handle festival goers tweeting, Instagramming, texting, and calling.

But the relationship between Telstra and festival organisers seems to have soured, after promoters announced on Monday that although Telstra had previously committed to providing the COWs free of charge as they did in 2013, in May Telstra "withdrew this commitment".

"This year Telstra will not have any COWs on site at Splendour and this will have a major impact on their network coverage at the show," festival organisers said in a post on the Splendour in the Grass website.

"While we are committed to providing you with the best Splendour experience possible, we are not in a position to pay many hundreds of thousands of dollars for a service that actually generates revenue for Telstra."

The organisers said Telstra customers "will struggle" to get coverage as a result of Telstra's decision.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Telstra said that Telstra had previously made a "material investment" in providing coverage to the event, but the increasing demand from smartphones and tablets made the temporary installation of COWs "less effective and uneconomic".

The spokesperson said that Telstra had proposed a joint funding arrangement.

"Telstra proposed a joint investment in a permanent solution to the festival organisers which would have supported not only mobile infrastructure but also other high bandwidth internet connections and potentially Wi-Fi. The organisers decided not to take up this opportunity and we respect their decision," the spokesperson said.

"We are aware of how important mobile coverage is to our customers — we are continuing to plan for the event with optimisation of capacity in the cells that currently serve the area and we are also reviewing the availability of some of our temporary COWs normally used for emergency responses. If these are available at the time of the event we will also deploy this infrastructure to get the best outcome."

Telstra said it would look for a more permanent solution to improve coverage at the festival in future years.

Both Optus and Vodafone have committed to providing COWs at the event, and Optus has a relay tower 40 metres from the festival grounds.

Update: A spokesperson for Telstra announced this evening that it would provide two satellite COWs for the event, but it would only have 3G, not 4G coverage.

"These temporary facilities may not provide capacity to support the busiest periods during the festival, so we ask our customers to be patient during these times, wait a few minutes and try again," a spokesperson for Telstra said.

At the time of writing, Telstra had yet been able to contact the festival organisers to confirm the news.

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