Telstra under fire in bush

21 Aug, 2002 10:00 PM
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GUM leaves have been blamed for interrupting CDMA car phone connections on one of WA's busiest roads.

Vasse MLA Bernie Masters, who travels extensively between Busselton and Perth, said despite spending more than $1600 on updating his car phone equipment he was being "cut out" more times than with the old analogue system.

He spent more than $600 in buying a GSM digital phone kit to replace the phased-out analogue system, which cut out on him once for about 500-metres on the coastal route south of Dawesville.

He complained bitterly when he found the GSM system cut out six times.

Mr Masters said he was led to believe the introduction of the newer CDMA digital system would solve the problem and three years ago, when buying a new car, had a CDMA car phone kit installed at a cost of $1000.

"Now I find there are still three places between Busselton and Perth where the phone cuts out and it's a much longer distance than I ever experienced with either of the other two phone systems," he said.

He said there was also no sound to indicate a line had been lost during a conversation.

Mr Masters said he had again complained about the cut-outs and was told gum leaves had a greater capacity to cut out digital reception than first anticipated. The car phone worked in the cut-out areas if the car was stopped.

"Now they are blaming Australian gum leaves for poor quality of the services in this part of the world where gum trees are part of the landscape," he said.

Mr Masters said the next option was to spend another $1000 on a satellite phone and pay $2 a minute to guarantee services anywhere in Australia.

"It means that for country people using car phones it's a very poor service," he said. "If I have a satellite phone will it be affected by gum trees."

Telstra Country Wide regional managing director Geoff Booth said that he had not personally experienced any "drop outs" along the same stretch of highway but in any case mobile networks by their nature could be affected by land objects.

"It's not unique to gum leaves, any heavy forest or building is going to impact on the strength of the signal," he said.

Mr Booth claimed WA already had a good CDMA coverage which would be the best in the world after the Wireless West project was completed, adding another 45 digital CDMA base stations to the south west of the State.

Meanwhile Mr Masters also launched an attack on the disparity in Internet speed between the country and Perth.

"The access to broadband, which allows up to 50-100 times stronger communication than the normal Internet, is very restricted in the country," he said.

He said that unless South-West Internet users were within four kilometres of an exchange they would find it difficult in accessing the higher speed broadband, unlike in Perth where that service was taken for granted.

Mr Masters said while remote areas received a subsidy for a satellite service because of their geographic isolation many South West users could not receive that subsidy because they were assumed to have broadband.

He supported the sale of Telstra but believed the Internet delivery speed was still "very ordinary" south of Perth.

"I believe country people accept some disadvantages from living in the country but a reasonable line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere."

Mr Booth said Telstra had been awarded a special contract to provide remote customers with a two-way Satellite Internet service at local call prices.

He said it was therefore up to Federal Government if it wanted to provide this service to other areas.

Nevertheless he believed the current system was "quite effective" although a rollout of copper wire was continuing. He said the high Internet speed would only be available within 3-4km of an exchange if an asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) system was in place.

"We are working hard to make these sort of products available by a number of different technologies," he said.

Mr Booth said that given the current technology Telstra was rapidly heading to a situation where they would be able to provide a reasonable cost of delivery across the board.

WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl agreed with Mr Masters that the Internet speed in the country was still not satisfactory. "In many cases it is very slow and there are frequent drop outs," he said.

He said even if Telstra did provide an adequate service to the bush, to enable privatisation, there was no guarantee future providers would maintain the standard.

In the event of Telstra's full privatisation WAFarmers has called for legislative protection of country telecommunications services and 25pc of the sale be put in trust to ensure future telecommunication advances reach the bush.

"We are trying to look at the future not just the present day," he said.

Meanwhile the PGA was due to formalise its position on Telstra in about two weeks time.

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