Southern Downs 'second-class citizens' in technology

12th August 2017 9:02 AM
GREAT WORRY: Brett Bender is concerned he and fellow Allora residents are being put at serious risk by unreliable phone service. GREAT WORRY: Brett Bender is concerned he and fellow Allora residents are being put at serious risk by unreliable phone service. Sophie Lester

SOUTHERN Downs residents have been left feeling like "second-class citizens" thanks to poor mobile phone reception.

Reports of week-long disruption to services using the Optus network in Allora have raised serious concerns for those who fear in cases of emergency they will be left to fend for themselves.

Brett Bender, who owns computer and telephone maintenance service BSB group at Allora, said customers in the region were often without reliable service.

"What we find here is that Telstra is usually pretty reliable whereas Optus and Vodafone can be pretty iffy," Mr Bender said.

"Optus and Vodafone work well in the big cities and even in inner Warwick but once you spread out further it's not great.

"If you want reliable coverage, people often need to go with Telstra or another service that uses their network, which means they do have a bit of a monopoly on the market and we don't have as much choice.

"When it comes to tele- communications, regional customers are often treated like second-class citizens."

Mr Bender said it was also a concern for accessing medical help, particularly with so many elderly people living in town.

He said in communities such as Allora without its own ambulance station, being able to call a crew quickly was critical.

"I remember having to run over to our elderly neighbour's house next door because he had collapsed in the bathroom," he said.

"I worked in the fire service for 25 years so was able to keep him breathing while an ambulance came after about 35 minutes.

"We have two residential care facilities in town with about 20 beds each and plenty more older residents still living on their own and they need to be able to get a hold of 000."

Member for Maranoa David Littleproud said such incidents highlighted the need to rethink telecommunications policy.

"We have a unique opportunity to look at telecommunications policy and reshape the Universal Service Obligation that was first formed when Telstra privatised in the 90s," Mr Littleproud said.

"The Federal Government and Telcos put $300million toward the USO each year and $44million of that is going towards payphones; the reality is the technology mix has shifted away from that.

"We need to rethink the USO to ensure mobile phones are included as a baseline service and mobile towers are maintained to the level they should be and the networks are expanded.

"We need to do this to give our regional and rural residents the capacity to do business and ensure their safety."

An Optus spokeswoman said the company was not aware of service issues.

"There does not appear to be an outage affecting either of the two towers that service the Allora area," she said.