The Australian National Audit Office [ANAO] has heavily criticised the LNP government’s rollout of blackspot mobile phone towers. The first round of towers were awarded to places to encourage competition between mobile carriers, rather than solving real need and serving dangerous areas with no coverage.
The first round of towers came at a cost of $28 million and gave little to no extra coverage to areas where they were installed. 39 of the awarded 499 base stations in the black spot program were to be built by carriers anyway, with no cost to the taxpayer, but will be funded through the program. The audit found that the program is poor value for money and has flaws in the awarding, assessment, and no ability to test benefit of the towers installed.
In 2014 Mark Coulton [National Party], federal member for Parkes, visited Coonabarabran twice on the issue of mobile communication. Once to attend a resident-organsied town hall meeting where residents expressed their concern at the terrible state of mobile and data communication, and once with the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications to attend a meeting with Council and town representatives regarding the black-spot program. At those meetings the issue of where a tower could be situated for coverage on Timor Rd and the miraculous lack of fatalities during the 2013 Wambelong Fire, where mobile phone coverage would have ensured more notice to have allowed residents to save livestock and houses, were part of the discussions.
In 2015 it was announced that Coonabarabran was not successful in the first round of black spot towers.
In responding to the criticism by the ANAO, Mark Coulton has said that the criteria for the roll out has changed and he hopes that genuine black-spot areas, such as Timor Rd will be covered in the next round.