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How the government is improving Australia’s telco networks

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Communications released a press statement outlining how the government is strengthening its telecommunications services.

Telecommunication is vital during emergencies to keep communities safe, connected and informed. They are also crucial in coordinating response efforts to get timely information to emergency personnel during natural disasters, the release said.

Towards this, the government is investing $37.1 million through the Telecommunications Emergency Resilience Package.

It also put forward funding of $7 million to deliver upgraded connectivity at fire service depots and evacuation centres across the country to support its essential work and provide emergency connectivity for communities.

The funding will support the installation of 2,000 of the National Broadband Network (NBN)’s Sky Muster satellite connections to rural and country fire service depots and designated evacuation centres. Up to 100 critical sites will also have batteries and solar panels installed.

NBN is a national wholesale open-access data network project.

While many rural and country fire service depots already have fixed-line connections, the NBN satellite upgrades will provide a back-up link if these are severed, keeping emergency personnel connected and focused on the bushfire response.

Providing better communications access at evacuation centres will improve safety and help keep families and friends in touch with news updates and each other during these stressful events.

Most outages are caused by power outages during emergencies, so the government has announced the $18 million Mobile Network Hardening Programme.

The release explained that the first stage of the programme will provide funding to improve network resilience by upgrading battery backup power at base stations funded under Rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Programme. These upgrades will increase backup operation from between 3 to 8 hours up to at least 12 hours, where feasible.

The second stage will include a grants programme to support a range of hardening measures at high priority locations to prevent telecommunications outages during disaster events.

This includes improving backup power and other infrastructure hardening measures, such as improved facility design at key telecommunications facilities (mobile base station feed sites and exchanges). Also, providing backhaul transmission redundancy.

Commonwealth funding would be available for the second stage for up to 50% of the capital costs of the upgrades with the rest provided by the grant recipient.

During the recent bushfires, Australia’s major telecommunications carriers deployed temporary communications facilities to communities and evacuation centres where possible, providing temporary connectivity and a lifeline for many in areas affected by network outages.

$10 million will be allocated to purchase portable communications facilities such as cells on wheels (COWs), mobile exchanges on wheels (MEOWs) and NBN Road Muster trucks, which can be positioned in bushfire affected areas to allow communications services to be restored quickly.

Given the success of these deployments, $1.7 million of this funding will be provided to Co to purchase five extra Road Muster satellite trucks and twelve portable satellite kits to provide connectivity where needed during emergencies.

The remaining funding will be allocated under a competitive grants process.

Of the competitive grants component, NBN and carriers will contribute up to 50% of the capital costs of the facilities and will be responsible for the operation, maintenance, and replacement costs of equipment purchased.

As part of the package, a $2.1 million public communication programme will be delivered over the next two bushfire seasons to provide practical information and advice for communities and businesses about how to keep connected during emergencies.

The programme will emphasise the importance of having a communications plan in place for emergencies and not relying on one form of technology.

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