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.

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.

Stage 2 is a competitive grants program that will support network hardening measures at high priority locations to prevent telecommunications outages during disaster events, including:

  • improved backup power and other infrastructure hardening measures, such as improved facility design, at key telecommunications facilities (such as mobile base station feeder sites and exchanges), and
  • backhaul transmission redundancy.

Commonwealth funding would be available for the second stage for up to 50% of the capital costs of the upgrades with the rest provided by the grant recipient.

The Government is currently seeking feedback from industry and the community on the draft Grant Opportunity Guidelines for Stage 2. Further information on this consultation can be found on the 'Have your say' 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.

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: