Rural residents in north-west Queensland struggle with unreliable phone and internet connectivity

Business owners and residents in rural communities in north-west Queensland are experiencing frequent dropouts in phone and internet connectivity. This issue has negatively impacted businesses, leading some residents to switch to alternative providers such as Starlink, Sky Muster, and Wi-Sky. Telstra, the largest telecommunications provider in Australia, has been unable to address the connectivity problems faced by these communities, with key mobile service projects repeatedly delayed.

Belinda Murphy, a business owner in Julia Creek, located just 500 meters from a Telstra exchange, experiences several connection dropouts daily. As a result, her business suffers from reduced sales and frustrated staff and customers. In search of a solution, she visited a Telstra store in Mount Isa and was advised to switch to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet connection, which she did.

The lack of reliable connectivity has also affected events that contribute significantly to the local economies of small country towns. For example, the Boulia Camel Races, which generates approximately $2 million annually, faced issues with mobile and internet service, preventing businesses from using EFTPOS machines. Despite Telstra’s attempts to find solutions, the event organizers plan to increase their use of Starlink in the future.

In response to these problems, some communities have turned to local internet provider Wi-Sky. The company, started by Will Harrington in 2016, has used government funding to erect internet towers across the outback. Many residents in these areas have chosen to switch to internet calling using Wi-Sky’s towers. The company is also expanding its services and building towers in additional locations.

Unfortunately, many residents in rural areas are not aware of the alternative options available to them. Kristy Sparrow, founder of Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR), emphasizes the need for increased connectivity literacy. She believes that governments should take a more proactive role in educating residents about the available technologies and setting up their networks.

Telstra acknowledges that connectivity is not solely their responsibility and that both government entities and providers should share the responsibility. They have several programs in the pipeline to improve connectivity in the region, including upgrades to their networks. However, residents and local officials feel frustrated by the delays and consider it a never-ending waiting game.

Overall, the lack of reliable phone and internet connectivity in north-west Queensland has become a significant issue for businesses, residents, and events in the area. Efforts are being made to find alternative solutions, but there is a need for greater education and support from governments and providers in addressing this problem.