By ERWIN CHLANDA
Telstra’s grossly inadequate mobile phone service at the Finke Desert Race has been an irritation for decades, and this year the company has managed to go even a step further.
It scheduled across the race weekend work on its installations in Alice Springs that inevitably causes disruptions.
Finke president Antony Yoffa says the mobile reception is “pretty average” at the start-finish line, adjacent to the airport, where thousands of spectators, competitors and crews congregate for the four days of the event.
He says mobile calls are intermittent. People including journalists covering the national event have trouble getting online via the hotspots on their ‘phones or uploading images to their social media.
The race organisers were forced to engage an alternate service for its communications, Vocus, to obtain the necessary reliability. This solution is expensive, says Mr Yoffa.
Telstra declined to give the Alice Springs News written answers why no temporary facilities have been provided for the annual event that has been scheduled on the Queen’s Birthday – now the King’s – for 47 years, nor would they say why Telstra is not carrying out its repairs or upgrading work before or after the fixture.
It was a “no comment” from Telstra. Given the conduct of the spokesman I had good reason for not accepting a verbal comment.
Telstra is bound by an Universal Service Guarantee (USG), enforced by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts.
The department says on its website that “mobile services are provided commercially and are not included in the USG because of the difficulty of providing mobile service ‘universally’, that is, everywhere in Australia, no matter how remote, sparsely populated or untravelled”.
The Finke start-finish line is hardly “remote, sparsely populated or untravelled” and the race’s date has been fixed well in advance, year after year, for nearly half a century.
Did Telstra not know it was happening? Or did they not care?
UPDATE June 16:
We received the following statement which also dealt with background. It did not contain any specific response to the issues raised in this report.
“Telstra received funding under the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program to build a new macrocell mobile base station at Finke.
“The remote location presented a number of complex challenges in building new mobile infrastructure.
“However, the base station was complete and went live in March this year, and will provide a significant boost in supporting the annual Finke Desert Race and ongoing mobile connectivity for the local community and surrounding area.”