Wartook residents left without communications during Grampians fire

WARTOOK residents were left without communications to vital emergency services as fire tore through the area on January 16 and 17.

Up to 70 homes were unable to call emergency services after power was lost at 2am on the Friday morning, cutting landlines.

Mobile phone coverage is unavailable in the area.

Wartook resident Royce Raleigh stayed to defend his property and was left with a frightening communications blackout as fire surrounded his home.

He said the community had been lobbying for better communications for decades.

"The community has been striving for well over 20 years to get better communications and it just falls on deaf ears," he said. "We're in a busy tourist area, one of the most fire-prone areas in Australia and yet they can't give us coverage."

Under communications law, Telstra has a universal service obligation to provide landline coverage but not mobile or broadband coverage, meaning if power is lost at Wartook, communication channels can be significantly diminished.

The law does not consider mobile and broadband services as essential.

Mr Raleigh said he understood Telstra was a business and under no obligation to provide essential services but the government should consider the public health effects of inaction.

"If it's a business case scenario that's fine, but it's a government scenario for health and safety purposes and we have to try to get the government to do something about it," he said.

Horsham Rural City councillor Pam Clarke said she and others on council had spent many years lobbying the Federal Government to act.

"It's dangerous all year round we've been fighting for years," she said.

Cr Clarke said it was staggering the northern Grampians had lower communications capabilities than remote parts of Asia.

"We've travelled to Tibet and most remote areas of China and Europe and we've always had absolute coverage," she said.

"We come to our hometown area and we can't get mobile coverage just outside Horsham."

A spokeswoman for the parliamentary secretary to the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he was unavailable for comment but directed the Mail-Times to a discussion paper released late last year announcing $100 million of federal funding for its mobile coverage plan.

Of the $100 million, $80 million would be set aside for mobile coverage along major transport routes in small communities and in areas prone to natural disasters.

Submissions to the Federal Government are open until February 28 but there is no timeline for implementation.

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