Better telecommunications services are being called for in the Mid West after a surge in usage has left some business owners struggling to access the internet.
- Farmers and businesses are experiencing poorer mobile services
- The Mid West Chamber of Commerce and Industry is taking its concerns to the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review
- Telstra will soon be upgrading service in part of the Mid West
Midwest Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MWCCI) chief executive Joanne Fabling said increased tourism meant some business owners were being left with limited mobile services despite full coverage.
“Out in the Morawa region the other day, you’re standing there, and you’ve got a full bar of signal on your phone, but you cannot send any kind of data,” she said.
“We welcome tourists, they’ve been so fantastic for our region … and we want more of that kind of traffic because it’s been really beneficial for our regional towns.
“But our telecommunications are just not holding up.”
Ms Fabling said it was the available bandwidth, not the number of towers, that was causing a problem.
“There’s no bandwidth left for anybody to send any data,” she said.
For farmers entering their harvest season, this is a major concern.
“You’ll find farmers will be on their harvesters and they’ll be looking to pre-sell their grain early, and if they don’t have the capability to do that, then it’s going to impact their business,” Ms Fabling said.,
“As farmers and our transport mechanisms are becoming more and more reliant on data, we need to make sure that our region’s capability is keeping up and currently it is not.”
‘We rely so much on apps’
Reliable mobile service is not a new problem for some farmers in the region but with the increase in visitors to the Mid West and the aftermath of Cyclone Seroja, the situation has worsened.
Canna-based farmer Betty-Lou Haydon is “frustrated” with the quality of mobile services at her property, where often she can only access the ageing 3G network.
Ms Haydon experiences slow or no mobile internet download speeds and sometimes text messages are delayed — something she says is “absolutely” worse in recent months.
“We rely so much on apps within our business now; we use it for our weather, for our grain marketing, we’re also doing an online course and we need Zoom, as well as other apps,” she said.
“We just can’t access those apps when we’ve got low internet service and low download speeds, so that’s very challenging.”
Ms Haydon also had issues with her Telstra-provided home internet service in July when her Business Activity Statement did not lodge.
“I went back though my filing and I could see that I’ve got a lodgement number and everything had been done,” she said.
“That was probably the final straw for me. I was lagging in the hope that Telstra would improve its home internet but I just decided that I’d go with the satellite NBN provider from now on.”
Come harvest time this year, she expects the mobile services will pose challenges for farmers in the community.
“Especially with the CBH app, we really will require good signal for that to work,” she said.
“[And] daily grain prices come through every day and sometimes if your signal’s not great, those text messages don’t come in to later in the day.
“That could be a significant cost to the business.”
Telco service upgrade on the way
In a statement, Telstra’s regional general manager for Western Australia Boyd Brown said the company would soon be upgrading the base station that serviced Canna and the transmission.
He says the area will have much faster data speeds when it is complete.
The new coverage is expected to be operating in mid-2022.
Mr Brown said that in Canna only 3G is currently offered by both Telstra and Optus and that the best option for locals is NBN satellite.
Ms Fabling has had some “really great conversations” with Telstra.
“I understand what their barriers are — being a full listed company with shareholders … but that doesn’t help us,” she said.
“Put a focus into some of these more remote and regional areas to keep the services up.
“This is where government has a role to play in looking at where they can partner to put more towers in, give more bandwidth … with more competition we may arrive at a better service.”
The MWCCI is putting its concerns in a submission to the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review 2021.
“I would like to see the outcomes of what this review is going to obtain,” Ms Fabling said.