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Landmark Digital Connectivity Project breaks ground in Balonne

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Reliable high-speed internet is one step closer to becoming a reality in the Balonne Shire, with construction of the first fixed wireless internet tower breaking ground today at St George’s Beardmore Cotton Gin.

Contractors for Field Solutions Group are constructing seven 45 metre towers between St George, Thallon, and Hebel over the next six months; they are also adding five 25 metre towers on top of existing structures such as grain silos and water towers, for a total of 12 fixed wireless internet towers in the Shire.

Once complete, the towers will offer a consistent internet service for local industries – something which has been historically lacking for businesses and agribusinesses across the shire.

At the Beardmore Gin, Queensland Cotton Regional Manager Ben Suttor said a stronger and more reliable internet connection could make a world of difference for their operations.

Four people stand in front of a pit in the earth, behind that is digging machinery.

“At peak times in the Gin, we can process up to 1400 bales of cotton every 24 hours, and for each bale we enter data into our computer system, which then gets shared with other levels of the supply chain,” he said.

“We are also receiving a constant stream of information about the condition of cotton crops directly from our local growers.

“Today, cotton is an incredibly high-tech industry, and because of the sheer volume of data we record and upload, a reliable internet connection is vital – it affects everything we do.

“We would love to get it to a point where we are uploading and sharing all of our information in real time, which would make a huge difference in reducing delays for growers, transporters, and our own workers during our busy season.”

At the site, the FSG contractors are working to get a foundation laid for the first tower. During the whole process they are utilising the goods and services of local companies for earthworks, concreting, machinery repair, and hardware.

The construction process is estimated to directly support three full-time jobs in the Shire, plus another 32 indirectly through the use of local companies, and through the contractors’ relocation to St George for about 6 months while the works are taking place.

Balonne Shire Mayor Samantha O’Toole said the Digital Connectivity Project has been highly anticipated by many people in the region, who want to make sure their business can get on board.

“When Council was planning this project, ensuring its benefits to our local businesses was a key component,” she said.

“Those benefits start in the current construction phase and will be fully realised once the fixed wireless internet signal is switched on.

“Having reliable internet access is essential for running a business, and right now so many of our businesses and agribusinesses are hampered by slow connections or intermittent service – it affects every part of their day-to-day operations, from paying their staff through internet banking, or checking moisture levels.

“Every week I hear from residents who ask me when this project will be finished and the signal switched on; that just shows how much this kind of service is needed for the residents doing business in our Shire.”

The Digital Connectivity Project is scheduled to be complete and switched on by February 2021.

Stage 1 of the Digital Connectivity Project is proudly funded by the Queensland Government’s Building Our Regions program. Stages 3 and 4 are funded by the Australian Government under the Murray–Darling Basin Economic Development Program.

Published: 28th October 2020

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