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Elon Musk's internet proves an unlikely saviour for rural Australians suffering connectivity 'fatigue'

ABC Rural / By Alys Marshall

From his cattle farm six hours west of Brisbane, Peter Thompson laughs at the idea of replacing his work ute with a Tesla, but he's happy to pay $140 each month into Elon Musk's back pocket.
Key points:

  • Elon Musk's satellite internet service is accessible Australia-wide
  • Offering high speeds and reliable connectivity, Starlink is being adopted by many rural Queenslanders.
The Regional Tech Hub says the introduction of Starlink into the limited rural Australian telecommunications market will prompt competition and innovation

While Twitter users across the globe have boycotted the billionaire, who controversially bought the social platform before promptly sacking more than 3,000 staff and re-instating Donald Trump's membership, rural Australians haven't been as quick to knock Musk's products.

The reason: His internet service works where competitors' services don't.

Starlink uses thousands of low-orbit satellites to connect people in remote areas and is now available Australia-wide.

Having battled for years with multiple internet modems, data-sharing SIM cards and other WIFI-boosting gadgets, Mr Thompson was at his wit's end before he was introduced to Musk's internet provider.

"We used to spend an absolute fortune, up to $2500 per month, to get enough data to operate our farming business," Mr Thompson said.

The Thompsons installed their own Starlink service in May. They can't believe the difference it has made.
"Put simply, it's bloody fantastic," Mr Thompson said.

"I think everyone has an opinion on Elon Musk the person, but here is a thing that works really, really well for us.

"Before this, we had NBN SkyMuster, but the big issue with that was the very big ping speeds."
A ping speed, or the time it takes for a signal to get to the satellite and back again, is generally about 32 milliseconds.
But Mr Thompson was finding it was about 700 milliseconds on the NBN service.
phone in paddock
Now, their internet connection is as fast as in metropolitan and regional areas.

"We've got family and friends in the city that we used to be jealous of because of their [internet connection], but now we're the same as them," Mr Thompson said.

"Now we have speed and reliability, we can do virtual meetings, emails, video streaming — all those things people in town take for granted."
Mr Thompson does, however, acknowledge the cost.
"We probably pay twice what someone would pay in the city," he said.
But he says that, for them, it's all about the context.
"Compared to what we were paying three years ago, and all the systems we had to trial and test, I'm quite happy to pay $140 a month."

On her family-run grain and cattle property near Glenmorgan, on Queensland's Western Downs, it's not the price holding Wendy Henning back from Starlink, it's the thought of changing internet providers again.
"Fatigue is probably a good way to put it," Ms Henning said.
Their internet setup is like a maze, she explains.

The Hennings use NBN SkyMuster for their WIFI, enabled through mobile reception, which, because they are in a reception black spot, comes in the form of a Telstra booster.
Annabelle Henning regularly has to hotspot internet from her phone data

"It means if the power goes out, which it tends to do, we've got no reception and no internet," she said.

Despite the high price they pay for the complex system, and the poor internet connectivity it provides the family has to resort to mobile hotspots when the weather is cloudy or windy Ms Henning says she isn't rushing towards the newest gadget on the market.
"After so many years of different solutions being sold to us as the golden egg of our connection problems, I could be a bit cynical," she said.

Jennifer Medway, who manages the Regional Tech Hub, says Starlink benefits everyone in rural and remote areas, not just those who sign up for it.
"Any competition, or new way of doing business, certainly disrupts the market somewhat, but that's a good thing," she said.
"It certainly encourages the other providers to step up their services to keep up, and I think it does make it a lot easier for similar types of satellite companies to come in."
Attracting people to the bush

Back at their Roma home, the Thompson family says a reliable internet connection is about more than just Netflix free from buffering.
"We are always looking for ways to attract people to live and work out here, and this is a great one," Mr Thompson said.
His daughter and her husband retreated to the farm during COVID lockdowns and now they have both can stay and work remotely.
"It means one person in a couple can work in agriculture and the other can continue their career from here," Mr Thompson said.
"So why not come and live in the country and have some space and fresh air?
"We can honestly nearly say that you'll have good connectivity possibly even better than what you've got in your little unit in the middle of Brisbane or Sydney."

Kurtn 7 Dec 20
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I live about 40 minutes outside of Darwin in a rural area. We have crap internet.
We do not have fraudband despite all of the phone calls we get telling us it is coming.
Also we have friends who have to use wireless connections because no company will hardwire them in. Especially in new developments as telstra has not laid landlines for home phones so there are no connections to use.

It stops working in the Wet season often (poor/inadequate telstra cabling) It is sometimes as slow as dial up speeds (I often get told on downloads it is going at kilabytes and I have gigabytes to download)

So I get that people for whom being able to use the internet to run their business would go into league with mush. I have poor mobile coverage at home but refuse to use telstra after their crap treatment of me when I had landline connection issues at a town residence (ie in a metropolitan area not rural)

I too have had crap service from Telstra. I have gone to the ombudsman several times to get them to do what they are contracted too do.
I am now with Optus and I have been to the ombudsman several times because the crap service.
I live in Moura , phone line or even cable is available but renting we cannot afford he connection and cancellation fees, se we use broadband hotspot from our phones. Shitty but it works.
Someone suggested I try Starlink. It was a viable option until I saw the price. No wonder Elongated Musk is a billionaire.
But to be fair, I have been to lots of regional towns that now have some broardband service.
Australia is near the bottom of internet services available. Out of 64 nations we rank about 49. Even the poorer African nations have better internet than us.

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