$8m boost for provision of temporary emergency mobile facilities

Four telecommunications providers are getting $8.3 million in Federal funding to provide bushfire-threatened communities with temporary mobile and broadband facilities.

The grants are being provided under the Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disaster (STAND) package and will enable NBN Co, TPG Telecom, Telstra, and Optus to provide temporary telecommunications facilities and equipment such as cells on wheels (COWs) and satellite-powered COWs (known as SatCOWs).

In addition to the STAND grants, NBN Co has been allocated $1.7 million to buy five new NBN Road Muster trucks and 12 portable satellite kits to be delivered before the end of the year.

A COW is a portable mobile network tower that restores mobile phone services over an area of up to several kilometres from the COW, depending on the local geography and the number of people accessing the cell provided by the COW.

Satellite cells on wheels (SatCOW) are like COWs but connect to the wider telecommunications networks using a satellite link.

They can be deployed to remote locations to provide a small area of mobile coverage for Emergency Service Organisations and the local community.

In a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, ALGA and state and territory local government associations said temporary communications equipment “should be exempt from state and territory planning and council approvals only in the case of emergencies or natural disasters.

“In other cases, it should be subject to approvals to ensure that there is no interference with other infrastructure or services, heritage, environmentally significant areas, or no increase in the local risk profile,” the submission said.