With more people working from home, and schools switching to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic the demand for internet and phone services has increased, yet the Wimmera and Ararat have significant connectivity issues.
The first four rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program have funded 60 new base stations in the electorates of Mallee and Wannon with 53 already complete.
Of the 516 mobile blackspots listed in the Mallee on the national database just 38 have been completed, with a further three to be finished in coming months, according to Member for Mallee Dr Anne Webster.
Dr Webster said she had met with the Communications Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss "the importance of good telecommunications access across Mallee".
"I continue to raise the issues of our blackspots, ensuring that those across Mallee are not overlooked, and our communities have access to better mobile services," she said.
In a statement, Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said: "Mobile towers continue to be delivered and activated in Wannon. I am always advocating for further towers in Wannon on an ongoing basis.
"I also continue to work with residents, community organisations and local councils on mobile blackspots and have received extensive feedback on the priority locations that need improved coverage."
The federal Government committed $380 million to the Mobile Black Spot Program to invest in telecommunications infrastructure to improve mobile coverage and competition across Australia.
Under the first four rounds of the program the Government's delivered a total of 1,047 new base stations across Australia, which the department said would all be operational by June 30 2020.
In March 2019 as part of the Government's response to the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review $160 million in funding was allocated to rounds 5 and 6 of the program.
Round 5 of the Mobile Blackspot program closed last year in September.
Dr Webster said the communications department was "well underway in negotiations with successful bidders".
"Round 6 funding applications will open soon, and timelines for the construction of these towers can be long," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts could not provide a date for when round 5 locations for the mobile blackspot program would be announced, despite the department website stating they would be announced in early 2020.
"Similar to previous rounds of the program, more information about the expected timing of the rollout will be made available on the websites of the successful funding recipients," she said.
A state Government spokesman said they were making sure regional communities across Wimmera, Grampians and Ararat area have reliable coverage when they need it most.
"Through the Victorian Government's Mobile Black Spot Program, we've funded 42 mobile towers in the Wimmera, Grampians and Ararat regions and have already completed 39 of these, helping more Victorians stay connected."
Sky Muster download limits almost doubled
The spokeswoman also said in response to increased demand, NBN Co has provided 40 per cent more CVC (bandwidth) capacity for retailers at no extra charge.
"This allows more data to flow through the pipe to accommodate changing traffic patterns as more people work and study from home," she said.
Dr Webster said she had also met with NBN and Telstra to "ensure every effort is made for people to access stable internet during this time of increased demand."
"NBNco have seen an increase in traffic across their network of 71% from pre COVID-19 levels," she said.
"In response to the increased demand, NBNco have increased the data capacity of internet service providers to access all fixed line, fixed wireless and satellite NBN technology."
"Remote customers who have access to the internet via NBN Sky Muster, have had their download limits increased (to 45 Gigabytes per month)."
"Customers on Sky Muster Plus connections now have a range of applications that do not contribute to download limit, which has increased their overall capacity.
"These improvements matter to the people of Mallee."
Where have the Black Spots been fixed?
This Mobile Black Spot program has been supported by co-contributions from state and local governments, mobile network operators Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, businesses and communities.
But some residents have reported connectivity issues due to cross over between towers.
Telstra acting regional general manager Marcus Swinburne said as part of the Federal Government's Mobile Black Spot Program, they had switched on more than 50 mobile black spot sites across western Victoria, delivering coverage to more areas for the first time.
"When Round Four of the Mobile Black Spot Program is complete, Telstra will have contributed more than $280 million to the mobile black spot program," he said.
Telstra has switched on the following mobile black spot sites in Mallee:
- Chetwynd A
- Chetwynd B
- Glenloth East
- Korong Vale
- Landsborough West
- Marnoo A
- Marnoo B
- Mosquito Creek*
- Sandhill Lake
- Sheep Hills
- Telopea Downs
- Wallaloo East
- Wartook Valley
- York Plains
Telstra has switched on the following mobile black spot sites in Wannon:
- Cape Bridgewater
- Lake Mundi*
- Mena Park
- Pigeon Ponds
- Portland West
- Victoria Valley
An Optus spokesperson said the telco regularly undertook drive testing assessments of its network and incorporated crowd sourced data as part of its planning reviews.
In the last 12 months they have built sites with variations of Government or their own capital funds:
- Port Campbell north
- Beaufort central
- Point danger
- Swan Hill central
- Horsham West
Over the next 12 months, together with Federal and State Government they have the following planned:
- Calder highway
A Vodafone spokesperson said the telco would not be building any Mobile Black Spot towers in the Mallee and Wannon electorates.
The Mail-Times contacted the Member for Wannon for comment.