* Slow internet speeds & unreliable connections
* Limited Data – most rural families are limited to 25GB of data/month
* Very expensive – Telstra Satellite customers pay $69 per GB
* Not being aware of options available
* People being unable to use Skype to connect to specialists, resorting to travelling thousands of kilometres for a 5 minute appointment.
* Telehealth services in smaller towns not working, people having to drive / fly for many hours for a simple xray
* Mental health web support sessions not available
* Emergency situations such as fire, flood, extreme weather events need adequate telecommunications – it is critical to be able to inform people of the dangers faced.
* Appointments missed or cancelled after arrival due to ‘city based’ ignorance of no mobile service in the bush.
* As there are no subsidies for mobile broadband antennas and boosters people are resorting to cheap ‘illegal’ boosters which has lead to emergency services being ‘blocked’ from communications, several deaths have been recorded as a result.
QLD: AMANDA: Just over a year ago, my world was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While I did my best to face down this challenge with energy and focus, the sheer number of kilometres I have had to travel for specialist appointments, surgeries and treatment has been mind boggling. I estimate I have covered around 20 000 km in 12 months (something I accept as a trade-off for living where we do). A couple of my specialists have offered to Skype with me, to save at least a couple of 1000km round-trips. Unfortunately, our internet service is generally so slow and unreliable that it simply cannot support even a simple Skype-chat. You can read more about Amanda’s story on her blog Bush Babe of OZ – The Shape of Bush Disconnection and Taking on The Data Drought.
QLD: SHELLY: At the Birdsville clinic, video conferencing is so unreliable that Shelly Dillon, 53, was forced to fly to Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, to see medical specialists every six weeks at a cost of $1200 per return journey. The mother of five, who is still recovering from a horrific quad bike accident at the iconic Big Red sand dune two years ago, said some of the consultations lasted just five to ten minutes. “It could be done at our own clinics if the internet was fast enough and we had the facilities to do a video conference with [the specialists],” she told the ABC 7.30 report.
QLD: TRACY: I keep harping on at Skype for medical appointments as it is really important in my life. I suffer from severe anxiety and depression and I Skype with my psychiatrist every three weeks to check in, alter medications etc. With out this I am very unwell, if I had to go see him every time it would be a 7-8 hour return drive plus. Skype for specialist appointments is essential for rural and remote people.
QLD: BEN: When 7.30 visited the clinic, Ben Leech, 27, arrived with a suspected broken finger but was told he would have to drive eight hours to Mount Isa to get an X-ray. “At the moment we don’t have that capability because of the internet,” Ms Macdonald informed him. ABC NEWS ARTICLE
QLD: TAMMY: My son was enrolled in an online teens program for kids with social anxiety. After 3 sessions of the trial course we had to give it away as he couldn’t watch the videos or keep connected to finish his work. He desperately needed the tools in the course. As a single parent who has to drive her child too and from school it leaves no time to go to appointments if they are face to face, and my son misses crucial higher secondary classes. It is too far for us to consider trying to access programs like this which need a weekly commitment.
QLD: CHRISTIE: After long delays in trying to access a speech therapist for my daughter we were offered Skype sessions with a Brisbane based speech therapist. We tried this for several weeks however our Satellite connection gave us a very poor experience. When the nbn Fair Use Policy came into play we needed all of our ‘peak’ data just to complete distance education, so we are now unable to connect with a speech therapist due to poor speed and lack of data. We don’t have a speech therapist within a 4 hour drive from our property. We have considered moving so that my daughter can access these services. However my husband has lived here all his life and I don’t believe we should have to move just to be able to access an essential health service.
NSW: CARLA: The lack of mobile service and the health professionals that are unaware of this issue has severely affected my family. Often specialists use texts to confirm appointments, even though they are told we have no mobile coverage. We have travelled thousands of kilometres for appointments only to be told that the specialist is sick (they notified us via text) or that because we didn’t confirm our appointment with a text reply, they had cancelled it. This wastes time and money and is extremely frustrating.
WA: CHRIS: “Mobile communications in a bushfire”
Lesson one. Stand on top of truck holding phone as high as possible. Check for text.
Lesson Two. Type text. Find a safe high position press send throw the phone high into the air.
Lesson two part two. Catch phone and check sent status. Repeat process to receive text.
Lesson three. Find the nearest high tree, carefully scale tree using DFES approved climbing technique. Constantly check for signal then send or receive.
WA: KIM: Lack of mobile phone coverage recently put lives at risk and also contributed to the deaths of 4 people during the Esperance Fires. People needed to rely on word of mouth to warn neighbours because of poor communications. “Communication was a massive problem and it put people at risk,” he said. “Something has to be done about it. It has to be fixed.”
WA: SCOTT: Mr Wandel said the lack of mobile coverage was a big factor in people being caught unaware and driving into the fire. “We were not informed until the fire front had passed the northern edge of our property,” he said.
SA: KURT: Our local fire brigade which is also responsible for filling water bombing aircraft is desperate for reliable emergency communications. Both GRN (government radio network) and mobile phone reception is pathetic at the best of times. Our CFS shed has NO mobile phone or Internet coverage and if the fire truck is in the shed we have no radio communications to Adelaide Fire to report back to. The back up if the radio dies or there is no reception is the mobile phone and you guessed it, no mobile coverage!
QLD: GIGI: I live on a cattle property just north of Mitchell, Qld. We are currently having Severe Weather warnings posted. Normally I would be able to keep an eye on where the storms are coming from via the local radar and also keep an eye on the lightening strikes through the storm tracker. But no, can’t even do that any more. We also can’t load the NAFI site to keep an eye on fires in the district, all of the above extremely life saving tools we can no longer access due to the deterioration of our internet.
NSW: MARCUS: Illegal boosters are causing huge issues in Regional Australia. Part of the reason these boosters are illegal is they interfere with emergency services and triple zero, we have heard that there is already one death that has been attributed to these illegal boosters where triple zero was unable to work and another under investigation.
QLD: JOAN: My partner lives 3kms from the ADSL cut-off point and as he is on Newstart atm he can’t afford both phone and Satellite, so he chose the internet so he could apply for jobs etc. Now when he is getting only occasional connection he is unable to contact police, ambulance, fire brigade etc. in an emergency. Seems to me that this inadequate internet service could be a life threatening issue.
VICTORIA: MICHAEL: Walhalla is a town of 16 permanent residents that situated 180km [just over 2 hours] from the Melbourne CBD. We are 45 minutes from the Latrobe Valley with a population of 100,000 and 5 kilometres from a 3G mobile phone tower. Walhalla, while it sounds small, is a huge tourist destination for Victoria attracting over 120,000 visitors a year….not bad for a town of 16! Due to the steep topography, Walhalla has no mobile phone service and access to the satellite service is dependant on your position in the valley…sometimes the mountain is in the way! The Walhalla Goldfields Railway carries 32,000 passengers annually…but has ZERO internet. The Long Tunnel Extended Mine welcomes 11,000 visitors on tours every year…yet it too has zero internet access. Our town has lobbied, we have been in the Black Spot program…but unfortunately the unique mix of topography, small permanent population and lack of a major highway running through the town means we are ineligible. Unfortunately our 120,000 visitors don’t vote in Walhalla…it would be another story if they did! Sadly, we are just waiting for a death in order to force the issue, we are resigned to the fact that nothing will happen until someone dies in a fire or motor vehicle accident and the lack of communications contribute to their demise.
NSW: ANNE: Not everyone receives coverage for mobile phone warnings, this needs to be made very clear to local governments and emergency services.
SA: TREVOR: Mr Wright said a recent light plane accident highlighted the need for better mobile coverage in outback areas, and wants government to help with improvements. “We’ve had four search and rescues in four weeks. Two of them were [for people from] overseas, two were Australian. The longest one went for 30 hours,” he said. “Had we had mobile phone coverage or towers with data, the chances are with the communications, we would have picked up a lot of them quicker and made the exposure to risk a lot less.” ABC STORY
Prepared for BIRRR by Kristy Sparrow, some names and identifying locations have been changed.