Telecommunication networks can falter just when they are needed most - during times of natural disasters.
That was highlighted when bushfires and then floods swept across the Mid-North Coast.
Rollands Plains residents experienced mobile phone and landline outages during December 2020 and January 2021, before losing all connection during the March floods.
Telecommunications problems were also an issue in areas such as Pappinbarra and Elands during the bushfires.
Service reliability is among the focuses of the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review which is examining the adequacy of telecommunication services.
The Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee has released an issues paper with an outline of key areas of interest and invites public submissions.
Former Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker is chair of the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee.
He said the purpose of the review was to provide a report card on the state of play of telecommunications and make recommendations to the government about improvements that could be made.
Service reliability is on the review's radar.
Mr Hartsuyker said we had seen significant challenges in the local area in relation to bushfire, and more recently, flooding.
Around the country more generally, he said, it had been a problem when services had been needed most and they had been caught short.
"That often occurs as a result of a lack of power to mobile phone towers," Mr Hartsuyker said.
"The government has implemented a range of measures to strengthen and provide greater resilience for our mobile telecommunications in such cases but part of the review's role is to assess the current state of play and to make recommendations."
The issues paper outlines government measures to help address issues of telecommunications resilience in regional areas.
The committee welcomes views on further ways to maintain and increase the reliability of telecommunications networks in times of stress.
Mr Hartsuyker said there had been a significant number of natural disasters since the last review and that had highlighted potentially a weakness in the system.
"We will be discussing with stakeholders the challenges and possible solutions and already some of those solutions are underway," he said.
Service reliability is a key area of interest
The issues paper said the reliability of fixed-line, mobile and satellite networks was critical in regional, rural and remote Australia, including semi-rural communities on the fringes of major cities.
"Access to networks is of limited value if they are not reliable, whether on a day-to-day basis, or in time of particular need, such as COVID lock-downs or natural disasters," the issues paper said.
The committee wants to hear from regional, rural and remote communities about their experiences with service outages and how these have been handled by service providers.
"Natural disasters like bushfires and extreme weather events place pressure on telecommunications networks when they are most needed," the issues paper said.
"Telecommunications outages caused by loss of mains power and damage to networks can affect local emergency coordination efforts and the operation of public warning systems, as well as disrupting supply chains and access to essential services in the aftermath of disaster events."
The issues paper acknowledged no communications system was totally resilient during an emergency.
Review to consider broad range of issues
The Regional Telecommunications Review is also focusing on the impact of government policies and programs, insights from COVID-19, emerging technologies, regional development, consumer awareness, coordination between tiers of government and the quality of consumer information.
Mr Hartsuyker said the committee's aim was not to produce a report that gathered dust but to produce a report that would guide policymaking.
The issues paper, consultation dates and details on how to make a submission can be found at the Regional Telecommunications Review website.
Submissions will be accepted until September 30. The committee has been asked to deliver its report by December 31 or earlier.
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