Left in the digital dark

Neale Adams, Michael and Hamish Hawkins, Mark Graf and Peter Van Den Berghe 274293_01

By Eleanor Wilson

Residents in the east of Harkaway have voiced their frustrations over the poor internet and mobile quality in their area.

Neale Adams, who has lived east of Harkaway Road for almost 13 years, said he receives “minimal phone reception and rubbish 4G connection.”

“We currently are using Optus 4G and get download speeds of between 2.53 megabits per second (Mbps) and five Mbps, meaning only one person can use a device at a time and still there may be drop out during video conferencing,” he said.

Mr Adams said pockets of Harkaway also experience “very poor” mobile reception, with calls frequently dropping out and messages unable to send.

“We sometimes need to leave our house to make or receive a call,” Mr Adams said.

“The major concern is if in an emergency, such as a fire or need for ambulance, our communication will let us down at a crucial time.”

In a statement, Optus said it notes “there are some difficulties in providing blanket mobile coverage to the local area due to challenging terrain.”

“Optus have recently carried out some provisioning changes to the towers in the nearby area, which we hope may provide some coverage improvement,” a spokesperson said.

Satelitte NBN (Sky Muster) was installed in the area around eighteen months ago, but residents argue it is unreliable and data caps decrease download and streaming capabilities.

“NBN data is limited and expensive…so much is online now, we need reliable connections,” said resident Mathew Newey.

NBN Co claims the area is not geographically suitable for the resident’s desire for fixed wireless internet.

“NBN previously investigated multiple locations for fixed wireless towers for Harkaway,” said a NBN spokesperson.

“Specific technological requirements and the surrounding geography of the area limited the possible tower locations and a suitable site for a fixed wireless tower was not found.”

To make matters worse, telecommunications companies are now disconnecting landline services in the area in response to the installation of NBN, leaving some residents with limited access to any phone communication.

Mr Adams says he has considered alternative options for better coverage, such as Elon Musk’s satelitte system StarLink, or installing antennas to improve ADSL connection, but said many residents cannot afford the ’thousands’ it would cost to install and run the services.

“We mostly knew that there were alternatives to get good signal strength, but at what cost to our pockets?” he said.

“We are in agreeance that our main goal is to have the telcos come to the party and sort the issues at their cost.“

Last week the Federal Government and NBN Co announced $750 million to upgrade regional internet services.

The funding aims to allow more Australians to access fixed wireless service and faster internet speeds, with hopes of lessening customer congestion to the Sky Muster service.

Alongside this announcement, NBN has announced specific improvements to the Sky Muster service.

From mid 2022, NBN will alter its ‘off-peak period’ from the current 1am to 7am window, to 12am to 4pm.

Doing so will mean all internet use, including video streaming and VPN, will be unmetered during the off-peak period, and not count towards a user’s monthly metered data allowance for the majority of the day.

“In addition, for regular NBN Sky Muster, NBN is aiming to increase average monthly data allowances to 55 Gigabytes (GB), increasing to 90GB once the NBN Fixed Wireless upgrade is complete in around two and a half years’ time,” said a spokesperson.

In the mean time, Harkaway locals continue to advocate for seemingly basic connectivity requests to remedy what they call “third world“ service.

“Internet over 1.3mbps and any mobile reception would be great,“ said resident Mark Graf.