Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates from the Australian Government

What is the Government doing to strengthen telecommunications resilience?

The Government has committed $37.1 million through the Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters (STAND) package to improve the resilience of Australia’s communications networks in bushfire and disaster prone areas. This provides new funding for:

  • deploying NBN Co satellite services to emergency services and evacuation centres
  • strengthening regional and remote mobile phone base stations against outages, and
  • boosting portable telecommunications equipment reserves to help restore services quickly.

Better connectivity for fire service and evacuation centres

Rural and country fire services provide a life saving service to the community in times of crisis and ensuring they stay connected is critical for a disaster response and recovery effort.

Under the STAND package, we are upgrading connectivity at fire service depots and evacuation centres across Australia to support their essential work and provide connectivity for communities.

NBN Co Sky Muster satellite connections will be installed in rural and country fire service depots and designated evacuation centres and up to 100 critical sites will also have batteries and solar panels installed.

We are working closely with State and Territory officials to determine sites for these services.

Providing better communications at evacuation centres will improve safety and help keep families and friends in touch with news updates and each other.

Improving regional telecommunications resilience

During the 2019–2020 bushfires, most network outages were caused by power failure (Source: Australian Communications and Media Authority's Impacts of the 2019–20 Bushfires on the Telecommunications Network).

To help combat this, we are delivering the $18 million Mobile Network Hardening Program. Stage 1 of the program is providing $13.2 million in Government funding to Optus, Telstra and TPG to improve network resilience by upgrading battery backup power to at least 12 hours at 467 macro cell base stations funded under Rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program. This will keep mobile phone towers operating for longer if the power goes out during or after natural disasters, keeping people connected and making a real difference for communities during and after a natural disaster. These upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

Up to $6 million is available under Stage 2 of the program to support a range of network hardening measures at high priority locations to prevent telecommunications outages during disaster events. This includes:

  • upgrading power capacity to a minimum of 12 hours
  • emergency power solutions, including generators, to rapidly restore services during or after a natural disaster event;
  • expanding or enhancing a protection zone around a site to increase its resilience to a natural disaster threat;
  • provision of redundant backhaul; and
  • other hardening measures to increase the resilience of a site, such as flood elevation and physical hardening of sites.

Under Stage 2, Commonwealth funding is available for up to 50% of the capital costs of the upgrades.

The competitive assessment process for Stage 2 opened on 17 June 2021 with a call for proposals from Mobile Network Operators, Mobile Network Infrastructure Providers and Network Management Providers to improve the resilience of regional and remote mobile network infrastructure.

Applications close 5pm (AEST), Thursday 26 August 2021.

Further information on the program and the application process may be found on the 'improving resilience of Australia's telco networks' page.

Boosting portable telecommunication capabilities

During an emergency or natural disaster, network operators can deploy portable communications equipment to communities and evacuation centres, providing temporary connectivity and a lifeline for many in areas affected by network outages.

$10 million is being allocated to deliver new portable communications facilities such as cells on wheels (COWs), mobile exchanges on wheels (MEOWs), NBN Road Muster satellite trucks and portable satellite kits, to be positioned in bushfire and disaster prone areas to allow communications services to be restored quickly.

The investment means that this new equipment will be ready to hit the road when needed, allowing Australians to contact family and essential services, and making sure essential food, water and fuel purchases can occur.

The Government will work with NBN Co and network operators on co-contributions for the new equipment. Of the competitive grants component, carriers will contribute at least 50% of the capital costs of the facilities and will be responsible for the operation, maintenance and replacement costs of equipment purchased.

Fact sheet: Temporary Facilities during emergencies and natural disasters

Published 20th Oct 2020

Download PDF (653.51 KB) Download DOC (84.31 KB)

Improved Communications

The Government is improving information in the community about access to telecommunications during natural disasters. Natural disasters can catch people unawares about the possibility of phones (mobile and landline) becoming unavailable. This can cause a great deal of distress and anxiety. We are working with state and territory governments and emergency service organisations to help make sure that people travelling or living in bushfire and disaster prone areas are aware of the need to consider a communication plan as part of their preparation for the bushfire season. To help prepare, read our ‘six things you should know’ about telecommunications in an emergency.

Where can I find out more?

These measures form part of the Government's $650 million National Bushfire Response Package: