What’s next for the Kyby phone tower?

Kybybolite residents have been assured that they will receive a mobile phone tower, but the question now is when.

After the Federal Budget 2018-19 was released on May 8 it was revealed that there was no funding allocated to the Mobile Black Spot Program.

This caused some concern for Kyby residents, including Andrew Shepherd, the Chair of the Kybybolite Action Group.

Mr Shepherd has spoken with Federal Minister for Barker Tony Pasin about the issue, and Mr Pasin assured Mr Shepherd that the Kybybolite tower was still on track to be built at the end of the year.

The Mobile Black Spot Program was not funded in the Budget as it is currently undergoing a review, and Mr Pasin has stated on ABC radio that the government wants to “get it right” when it comes to mobile coverage.

The 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review commenced on April 30.

But when Mr Shepherd spoke with Mark Bolton, who is Telstra’s Area General Manager for South Australia, Mr Bolton said that the process may be delayed for another six months, as the tower will be built at the end of the 2018/2019 financial year. 

“It’s like the government tells me one thing, and then Telstra tells me another,” Mr Shepherd said.

“I just hope that they can work it out, and put the people first.”

Issues regarding little to no mobile coverage at Kybybolite have been present for a number of years, with the Kybybolite Action Group being formed approximately 6 or 7 years ago.

Mr Shepherd had a personal reason for becoming involved, as his son was involved in a quad bike accident when he was 10 years old.

Luckily Mr Shepherd was nearby, but he couldn’t call an ambulance whilst being in the fields, away from the house. Mr Shepherd had to make the decision whether to leave his son and call an ambulance at the house, or to pick up his son, put him in the ute, and call 000 at the house.

The younger Shepherd turned out to have some broken ribs and had to be flown to Adelaide.

All farmers are aware of the dangers of having no mobile coverage when working, with Mr Shepherd calling the situation a matter of “life or death”. 

There’s even health and safety concerns when a footy match is held at Kyby oval. As Mr Shepherd explained, Kybybolite is the only club in the KNTFL without a mobile signal. If there’s an accident during training or a match, it would be a struggle to seek medical assistance.

What makes the limited mobile reception near the sports club and township more frustrating is that the NBN tower was almost built right next to the sports club.

According to Mr Shepherd, the tower was going to go ahead and be built beside the oval, however plans changed without the community being notified.

It was only when a concerned farmer saw that work was happening at another site that Mr Shepherd went to investigate. He was told by NBN that they were building towers outside of townships after there had been complaints – made from those outside the region - of the towers being “eyesores”.

“I was gobsmacked,” Mr Shepherd said.

“They didn’t consult anyone in our community, nothing. They were just concerned with getting the tower up as quickly as possible.”

The NBN tower has been shifted to the outskirts of town, near a gully and a decrepit farmhouse. Mr Shepherd worries that this will make it harder for farmers and other residents who live on properties to have proper internet and phone access.

As well as a safety issue, it’s also an economic issue. Farmers need to be on the grid to run their businesses, with some investing in ‘booster packs’ for their homes or vehicles to have improved coverage.

The Kybybolite NBN tower was installed circa 2014, and the Kybybolite phone tower was promised in 2016. In 2018 Kybybolite and Kalangadoo phone towers were funded in the Priority Location Round of the Mobile Black Spot Program, with Telstra given the telecommunications tender.