Telcos could be forced to equip towers in bushfire prone areas with “at least 24 hours of standby power capability at all times” if a bill put before the parliament is passed.
The private members bill was introduced by South Australian MP Rebekha Sharkie, who is affiliated with the Nick Xenophon team.
Depending on the telco, mobile antennas are currently able to continue operating for up to eight hours after a mains power cut.
Telcos like Telstra typically use battery arrays for this standby power (although some sites have onsite generators that can be refuelled).
In the past, Telstra has deployed temporary generators to keep towers running through a disaster once batteries have been depleted.
Sharkie’s bill would require telcos to be able to guarantee at least 24 hours of standby power was available at high risk towers.
“High risk bushfire communities are to be determined by the government agency, Emergency
Management Australia, with regard to state and territory-based mapping of bushfire risk areas,” she said in explanatory notes.
“The Australian Communications and Media Authority would be responsible for determining the detail of the regulations that enforce these provisions.”
The bill appears to be the realisation of a successful lobbying effort by the Resilient Communities Adelaide Hills Group.
Members of the group were affected by power outages in South Australia in late December 2016 caused by severe storms.
After losing power and subsequently mobile communications, they prepared a 50-page report which is now the basis of Sharkie’s bill, the Stock Journal reported.
Sharkie had previously raised the issue with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during question time in parliament.
Turnbull said “resilience of telecommunications systems is very important” but blamed Labor’s energy policies and low co-investment by South Australia in the Coalition’s mobile blackspots program for issues in the state.