WA regional mobile blackspots under the hammer

$120 million project seeks to overhaul regional blackspots and consolidate emergency service communications

The Western Australian Government has committed a total $120 million to eliminating mobile phone blackspots and overhauling emergency communications networks.

State Premier, Colin Barnett, announced the project this week, which will see $40 million spent out of the state's Royalties for Regions fund over four years to build and upgrade communication towers throughout the state in an effort to extend mobile coverage in remote areas.

The regions of Pilbara, Mid-West, Gascoyne, Kimberley and Wheatbelt will receive priority under the program, with the Goldfields-Esperance, Great Southern, Peel and South-West regions also gaining extended mobile reception as a result of the implementation.

“Anyone living or travelling in regional Western Australia understands the frustration of trying to use a mobile phone in dead spots,” Barnett said in a statement.

The Royalties for Regions fund uses 25 per cent of the royalties from Western Australia's mining and onshore petroleum activity diverted to the state's regional development, and is largely distributed in grants to specific projects. A spokesperson for minister for Regional Development, Brendon Grylls, told Computerworld Australia that the funding for the towers would be solely from the program.

However, the program only allocated $10 million in the 2010/2011 State Budget this year, with an additional $22.3 million provided in forward estimates for the subsequent three years, leaving a $7.6 million shortfall for the project.

A separate, $80 million Community Safety Network Project will see emergency services consolidate radio communications under a single, secure network, replacing the current police regional radio network. Minister for Police, Rob Johnson, said in a statement that the current network was obsolete and failed to meet the needs of emergency services in regional areas.

“The new network will ensure that WA Police and FESA have access to a secure and reliable network, significantly improving the ability of police and fire officers to communicate during an emergency or incident,” he said.

The government will immediately go to tender for both projects, though a spokesperson for Grylls was unable define a timeframe for when the project would be implemented.

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