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Tania Maxwell pushes more action on digital blackspots

Tania Maxwell MP has again called on the Victorian government to do more to fix mobile phone and internet blackspots in bushfire-prone communities.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria asked Digital Economy Minister Jaala Pulford at the Legislative Council sitting in Bright today about steps the government will take to solve longstanding, ongoing problems with internet connectivity and mobile reception in rural areas.

Ms Maxwell said the Minister’s recognition of citizens’ legitimate concerns and frustrations around coverage issues was welcome but reminded parliamentarians that the 2019-20 bushfires had brought digital communication gaps into sharp focus.

“Indigo Shire chief executive officer Trevor Ierino spoke about these problems very publicly last year when he said the lack of mobile service along major roads in and out of Beechworth, for example, made it near impossible for people in high-risk areas to receive even basic alerts, warnings or updates on conditions,” Ms Maxwell said. 

“The state government must ensure that emergency management considerations are the most critical priority when scheduling mobile blackspot and internet access fixes in Victoria.

“Community members who addressed the parliamentarians here, including Alpine Community Recovery Committee chair Fiona Nicholls, Alpine mayor John Forsyth and Bright P-12 student Claire Lock, pointed to the fear and uncertainty created by ‘app-gaps’ and then by rapidly changing information advising residents to evacuate or to stay put during the January 2020 emergency.

“I was very pleased to hear the Minister confirm that Emergency Management Victoria’s services provide the last piece of advice to government about where funding to fix black spots should be directed.

“I also welcome Minister Pulford’s commitment that regional and rural communities will be extensively consulted about where funding from the government’s $600 million broadband and mobile connectivity program announced in the last Budget, of which $300m is specifically to eradicate black spots, will close critical gaps.”