Wartook Vallley residents bid for mobile coverage

WARTOOK Valley residents hope the Federal Government's $100-million Mobile Coverage Program will fix their long-standing phone reception woes.

Royce Raleigh said he and his wife Jeanne had been lobbying for improved coverage since the 1990s.

"We've been writing letters for 20 years, over about four different governments," he said.

He jumped at the chance to make a submission to the Mobile Coverage Program.

In his 45-page document, Mr Raleigh explained how living in a mobile phone blackspot was affecting the community.

His submission detailed not only their most recent experiences including January's Grampians bushfire but copies of all his previous letters.

Through fires and floods, Wartook Valley residents have learnt not to rely on having mobile phone reception.

Many have given up on using mobile phones.

The Raleighs' submission also focused on the impact on industries such as tourism.

"It's important we get more coverage," Mr Raleigh said.

"Thankfully, a good number of people have put in submissions. But I believe there should have been a lot more."

He and his wife were among a small group of Wartook Valley residents who attended a meeting with Member for Mallee Andrew Broad and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher at The Wander Inn restaurant.

Mr Fletcher took the opportunity to detail the process involved in the Mobile Coverage Program.

"We obviously want to move as quickly as possible to get additional mobile coverage into areas affected by natural disaster," he said.

"Clearly, in this part of Victoria and other parts of Victoria, it has been a very bad time for bushfires.

"At the same time, we need to make sure we structure this program properly, identify the areas of need and run a proper program.

"We want to be careful that we're talking about a timeframe we believe can be met, rather than giving inaccurate information."

The Federal Government aims to have a competitive selection process under way in the second half of this year, with a view to announcing sites receiving funding in the first half of next year.

Mr Fletcher said information gathering was one of the program's primary objectives.

In addition to identifying areas of need, he said the Federal Government was trying to bring together interested stakeholders who might be able to contribute to the project, including service providers and local government.

"It's a range of things, like potential cash contributions," Mr Fletcher said.

He said existing infrastructure would also be an important consideration.

Other priority factors included small communities, areas prone to natural disaster and major transport routes.

Mr Fletcher said ultimately the government would prioritise sites based on their value: investment amount versus population served, and program funding required, compared with available co-funding.

"The important thing for individual communities is to be able to make the case for how their location fits with the criteria of the program," he said.

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