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Community & Business

17 March, 2022

Gular tower grievances

By Tahlia Sinclair

Members of the Gulargambone and Armatree communities came together on Monday (March 14) night to discuss ongoing issues with mobile phone and data reception.

Federal member for Parkes Mark Coulton joined Telstra northern NSW general manager Michael Marom, to hear the group's grievances.

Ash Walker organised the meeting, and said it wasn’t meant to be a brick throwing session.

“This is not a time for everyone to share their concerns, so we’re not going to go around one-by-one. Barry Malone, who lives 16 kilometres west of Armatree, had his landline removed 14-years-ago under the recommendation from Telstra that bigger and better connectivity was on its way.

“As our needs for communications rapidly increase, our quality of service is diminishing, and as we age our needs are greater,” said Mr Malone.

“We need better connectivity for paying bills, booking tickets, medical services, FaceTime with doctors, general banking, online contracts, weather checks, sourcing parts, online auctions or Zoom meetings. All are essential services for our community.”

Mr Malone said that he was being sent round in circles by politicians and Telstra. Initially calling Mr Coulton’s office, he was encouraged to contact Telstra directly.

After speaking with Telstra, he was told to contact his local member. Increasing bills and reducing service provisions were also a key concern, with one member of the group saying it felt like they were shouting Telstra a beer to receive just a half a mouthful in return.

Telstra representative, Mr Marom, said that the teleco will continue to invest in “harder to justify” communities if they can get co-contributions from local, state, or federal government.

“The tower at Gulargambone is heavily congested, the amount of data required has increased by 50 per cent a year every year. It needs more capacity but there is only so much you can get to a location. Gulargambone is maxed out.”

The pair discussed the black spot funding program but outlined that the issues faced at Gulargambone were not best suited to it. Rather, they needed to look at the regional connectivity program.

Mr Marom said that the short-term solution for locals was to buy boosters to affix to their cars, homes, and businesses. However, boosters cannot improve connection when congestion is the problem, only spread the already weak signal further.

Attendees jeered at the suggestion boosters would solve their issues, with many saying they already had boosters and they were not helping.

Mr Marom confirmed to the group that a proposal for a full macro, fibre fed, tower in Armatree had been filed, but there was no guarantee it would be approved.

“It has to make a national list for Telstra, and if it gets through the Telstra list, it then goes to the federal government,” he said.

Mr Marom said Armatree was a high priority area, especially as the Gulargambone tower had reached capacity.

“I could say to you, we’ll go back and look at Gular and see what we can do, but it is optimised. You’re not going to get more capacity at Gular, that’s why you need a new tower.”

He estimated that if all went to plan a new tower could be erected in Armatree in the next 18-months.

“You’re probably going to get a tower in 12-to-18- months, if everything goes well, and this is an area where everything goes well.”

Until then however, all Mr Marom could offer as a solution was boosters, which individuals would need to pay for out of their own pocket. “We don’t provide support for mobile products.

“You can choose to invest in a booster, no one is forcing you to get it,” he said.

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