Tathra mobile service a black spot on region's tourism

THE ongoing issue of Tathra’s poor mobile phone reception was raised at a Federal Government round table discussion last Friday.

Member for Eden-Monaro Peter Hendy and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher held the forums – one in Queanbeyan and a second in Cooma.

Rob White, owner of Tathra Beach House Apartments and a Tathra Chamber of Commerce committee member, attended the Cooma forum with Greg McKay of the Seabreeze Holiday Park.

Mr White said the future of tourism in the area depended on improved mobile coverage and the forum was a great chance to express those concerns.

“The point we tried to make was of the ramifications to the area when people come to town and there is poor service,” Mr White said.

“We are losing customers and people are already commenting on sites like TripAdvisor to avoid Tathra because you can’t get phone coverage.

“Tourism is a big economic driver to the region, but it’s also a very competitive industry and we want to excel and enhance visitors’ experience.”

Mr White said people he spoke to at the forum in Cooma were “astounded” Telstra hadn’t already moved to address the poor service in the popular tourist town.

Almost 12 months ago a public meeting in Tathra to discuss black spots and potential solutions was attended by 60 people (BDN, 7/5/13).

At the time, Telstra Country Wide area manager Chris Taylor outlined the potential for small signal towers to be erected on the sides of local buildings to boost the company’s coverage.

The issue again popped up when Telstra launched the 4G service in the Bega Valley late last year (BDN, 24/12/13), improving speeds for those with compatible phones in the shire’s main centres, but reportedly still leaving patchy coverage in Tathra.

Mr White said the issue has been on the chamber of commerce’s agenda for around 10 years.

“Even if Telstra improved its service we would still have problems with people driving into town on Optus or Vodafone,” he said.

“But Telstra hasn’t even given the chamber the courtesy of getting back to us to say where they are up to [with their tower installation plans].”

A Telstra spokesperson responded to BDN requests by saying a detailed survey by engineers in Tathra and surrounds conducted after last year’s public meeting “confirmed the mobile network is as expected with on the street coverage available throughout”.

While there might be people in Tathra who would disagree with that statement, the spokesperson also said the Telstra Country Wide team and engineers will be conducting further investigations over the coming month “to understand our customers’ needs”.

Telstra recommended using “blue tick” devices to maximise coverage in regional areas and a “smart antenna” for anyone affected by poor reception inside buildings.

Details and advice can be found at www.telstra.com (links to the relevant pages are available on the BDN website).

Meanwhile, Mr Hendy said the forums were a “tremendous opportunity” for Eden-Monaro constituents to discuss mobile coverage issues directly with a senior Coalition representative.

Mr Fletcher reaffirmed the Coalition’s pledge of $100million to improve coverage throughout Australia - $80million to improve coverage along major transport routes and those prone to natural disasters; and $20million dedicated to a black spot project.

 “Inadequate mobile phone coverage is a significant concern for regional communities,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Lives can literally depend on accessing mobile phone networks in emergencies, so expanding mobile phone coverage has clear benefits to public safety – as well as to the productive capacity of regional communities.”

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