Climb up a tree and pray.
That’s how some in regional and rural Australia jokingly describe getting mobile phone reception and internet access.
The Australian Local Government Association’s regional forum has heard digital connectivity is critical for rural tourism, population growth, education, health and water monitoring.
But only one-third of Australia’s landmass is covered by mobile voice connectivity, the forum of 450 country mayors and council executives in Canberra was told.
Councillor Cathy Griff, from the Bega Valley Shire in southern NSW, told a Telstra panel the coastal region’s mobile reception was patchy.
“It’s quite shocking in this century,” Cr Griff said on Tuesday.
“We are OK and we’re not that remote, but it’s unreliable.
“So you have to climb a tree, and praying helps.”
She asked whether Telstra should do as it did before it was privatised and commit to public and community service obligations.
Telstra regional executive Loretta Willaton said the entire telecommunications industry was working on solutions, including low-earth-orbit satellites, artificial intelligence and the NBN’s fixed wireless network.
“We’ve acknowledged that mobile coverage will not be the solution to getting 100 per cent landmass,” Ms Willaton said.
“We can’t imagine that a country the size that it is is able to economically serve mobile coverage to 100 per cent, but we are seeing these new technologies coming through.”
The one-day regional forum focused on innovative solutions to major issues such as connectivity, skills shortages, climate change and health care.
Tony Rayner, the mayor of Longreach in central west Queensland, said improved mobile towers made it possible to host large and lucrative outback events such as the Birdsville races and the Big Red Bash music festival.
Mr Rayner said better connectivity also helped a family member, who was recently injured at cattle yards.
He said brain scans were quickly sent from Longreach Base Hospital to surgeons in Brisbane.
“It worked out well and I thought it was a wonderful example of technology, to have an expert specialist quickly review the CAT scan and give you some advice,” Mr Rayner said.
Earlier, opposition spokesman for local government, Nationals MP Darren Chester, said regional areas should stop talking themselves down.
“We have incredible opportunities if we can galvanise and work together … to achieve the best possible outcomes for all Australians, not just those who live in the cities,” he said.
(Australian Associated Press)