Malua Bay on the NSW South Coast, where hundreds of residents took refuge on the beach as bushfires swept through on New Years Eve, is one of the prioritised areas to receive resilience funding to upgrade its melted phone network base station.
More than 800 power outages occurred across the South Coast and region during the torrid 2019-2020 bushfire season, with dozens of mobile network stations damaged and services affected
Optus and then a few days later, Telstra arrived in Malua Bay with mobile base stations after the bushfires swept through to reconnect the community after its local base station was "completely fried", as federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher described recently.
Last summer, emergency satellite infrastructure was installed at more than 30 evacuation centres across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
With the Eden-Monaro byelection looming on July 4, the federal government will be aiming to get as much equipment as it can into the South Coast, a result of the $27.1 million recently allocated to telecommunications resilience before the poll was announced.
"Access to telecommunications before, during and after a disaster is critical. We need to learn from what happened in the 2019-20 bushfires - and make our networks more resilient in the future," Minister Fletcher said.
However, the necessary competitive grants process is slowing the installations.
Five months on, some mobile base stations are still needed in locations across the South Coast, and further $10 million will go to building more.
Within this allocation, $1.7 million go toward building five new "cells on wheels" trucks and 12 portable satellite kits, which proved vital in restoring telecommunications for local residents in affected areas. These are designed to provide short-term support.
Some towns, such as Cobargo which was devastated by the bushfires, still have a free mobile NBN wi-fi system in operation. Mobile services have been discontinued in other areas such as Lake Conjola and Batemans Bay as their regular systems came back on line.
Base stations are being upgraded now in a process which will continue to the end of the year as part of a separate tranche of funding under the $10 million "mobile black spots" program.
This will be used to retrofit around 700 base stations around the country with a longer emergency power supply and redundancy when the mains power is cut.
Funding will go to increase their back-up power either from conventional generators, or solar arrays and batteries.
Another $7 million will be used to set up some 2000 NBN satellite dishes at rural and country fire station depots, with NSW RFS fire control centres to benefit from this direct connection to the Sky Muster system across the second half of this year.
For designated evacuation centres in places like the Hanging Rock sports oval at Batemans Bay, where wi-fi access is available, the back-up will be satellite-equipped Road Muster trucks and portable satellite "fly-away" communication kits, which fit in pelican cases and backpacks.