Mobile phone users hit by phone and internet outages following natural disasters, including bushfires and floods, may not be able to temporarily switch providers, a parliamentary probe has heard.

Temporary emergency roaming services could enable Australians to connect to any available mobile network during natural disasters, should a network’s infrastructure be damaged or taken offline.

However, at a parliamentary hearing into disaster resilience on Friday, a push to develop such services was met with resistance given the technology’s limitations and cost involved.

The challenge of internet and mobile outages in the wake of natural disasters has generated headlines recently after destructive winds tore across Victoria, knocking over transmission towers and power lines.

It left thousands of residents without access to the internet and unable to make calls for days on end.

Appearing before the inquiry, Telstra’s government relations manager Lisa McTiernan said temporary roaming would have been unable to halt network outages on such a widespread scale.

“The intent of temporary disaster roaming really is designed to address connectivity issues for smaller geographical locations … it certainly isn’t something that could be deployed or activated for a very significant event,” Ms McTiernan told the inquiry.

“What we don’t want to occur is for a temporary disaster roaming activation to effectively be switched on and the remaining site gets completely inundated.”

TPG’s head of regulatory Alexander Osborne agreed an expansion of temporary disaster roaming would be difficult, granted the cost of sharing data roaming between providers wasn’t already in place.

“Disaster roaming is extremely limited in its use cases, it’s a very expensive approach,” Mr Osborne said.

“If you don’t have domestic roaming arrangements in place beforehand, it’s not going to work.”

In December, the Albanese government announced its intention to work with the telecommunications industry to determine the viability of emergency mobile roaming capability, after the competition watchdog found that such a service was technically feasibly.

Temporary roaming services are available in Canada and the United States, the inquiry heard.

On Friday, in a separate incident, multiple states were affected by an outage of triple-0 services on the Telstra Network in the early hours of the morning.

A total of 148 calls were not immediately transferred to the relevant emergency service, and in one case, a call from the family of a Victorian suffering from a cardiac arrest who later died.

It is not known if the delay contributed to the death.



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By Rahul

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