For 10 days already this year, the Arnhem Land community of Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island has languished without mobile phone coverage.
- Telstra says a technician arrived on the NT mainland on Wednesday to attempt to fix the issues on the island
- The island experienced another outage for several days in the middle of January
- Community members have been left dismayed at constant outages on the island
Two major blackouts in January have wrought major disruption on the island, with residents unable to buy food and fuel, contact medical services, access health records or operate businesses.
The latest outage in Galiwin’ku coincided with other widespread Telstra outages in several remote communities in Central Australia that shut down stores, left people without food and, according to local health services, “put lives at risk”.
The local MLA for the area, Yingiya Mark Guyula, flew to Galiwin’ku on Wednesday morning to see the impact of the latest Telstra outage.
The Member for Nhulunbuy is now calling on government to provide more assistance when remote communities are rendered helpless due to outages.
“I am very concerned … people could not use eftpos machines, basic cards, the ATM, or top up their power for houses,” he said.
Residents say the communications failures are happening far too often. (ABC News)
“People could not buy fuel or contact emergency services. Nurses in homelands and visiting community had no ability to check medical records and contact the clinics.”
Mr Guyula said the problems were symptomatic of “failing” infrastructure in remote communities that is going largely ignored.
“I want to know what the NT Government is doing to work with the Commonwealth Government and Telstra to improve the situation for remote communities,” he said.
“We need a better response from Telstra and more mobile towers in the region.”
Mr Guyula said the lack of government response was startling given more than 2,000 people were without power and food through blackouts in January.
“If this was happening in Darwin, we would see a much more urgent response,” he said.
Mr Guyula says infrastructure in remote communities is failing. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
‘Residents feel no one is listening to them’
The latest failure, which lasted four days and ended on Wednesday, is yet another test of residents’ patience with Telstra, which they say is treating remote communities like “second-class citizens”.
Nadyezhda Dilipuma Pozzana, a Galiwin’ku community member, said Telstra’s failures were repeatedly putting vulnerable residents at risk.
Remote communities empty as Telstra outages shut down essential services
Widespread Telstra outages in several Aboriginal communities in a remote area of Central Australia are shutting down stores, putting lives at risk and preventing people from accessing their money, according to community members.
“We’ve got some vulnerable people on the island, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, that you could imagine can’t access their bank account, can’t purchase food,” she said.
“It has an impact on the people who are vulnerable in the community to access those services that are vital for them to survive in this world.”
With ATM services down and cashless Basics Cards rendered useless due to the outages, Ms Pozzana said “people are starving because what they’ve purchased a week ago has ran out and they can’t get food from any other sources.”
Ms Pozzana told the ABC one local resident walked 15 minutes to the medical clinic with an assault injury on Monday because he couldn’t phone for medical or police help.
“[Residents] are feeling frustrated, they’re feeling that no one is listening to them. They’re feeling like second-class citizens,” she said.
As communications failures, and their associated costs, continue to mount, Ms Pozzana said residents have no confidence Telstra will improve its service to small communities like Galiwin’ku.
“These are human beings … people are starving, people are sick, people need medication. Do something,” she said.
“You are a big corporation. You have millions of dollars. Go out there and fix the lines so people can get back to their lives without being depressed, having anxiety and don’t know what to do.”
Landlines are scarce on the island, meaning many businesses are unable to operate when mobile coverage fails. (ABC News: Duane Preston)
‘They don’t have consequences’
Another resident, Faith Makwanya, said a lack of communication from Telstra during blackouts was due to its monopoly in remote communities, which means the company faces little commercial consequence for poor service.
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“They wouldn’t be able to do stuff like that in a big city. This goes on for days on end,” she said.
“It needs to be fair. It’s not like people are using the service for free. People actually pay for it. They need to treat Aboriginal communities the same as in big cities.
“I think they feel like they don’t have consequences because they don’t have competition. They’re the only ones with network in remote communities.”
Telstra, however, claimed it was providing regular progress updates to the office of the local MP during the failures.
Telstra also told the ABC the island’s landline telephone services, ADSL internet services and NBN Sky Muster satellite service were still operational during the outage. Many residents, however, said they rely on mobile coverage for their business activities.
“Different technologies are used to provide mobile, fixed line and NBN satellite services,” the Telstra spokesman said.
“For any future mobile outages, residents are encouraged to use a landline or internet service to contact Telstra to report a fault or track the progress of the network restoration.”
Failures take ‘far too long to fix’: Government
Telstra said its technicians flew to a site on the NT mainland on Wednesday morning to fix the problem, and issued an apology to residents after it restored services to the island community.
“Telstra apologises to local residents for any inconvenience caused during this time and will continue to closely monitor the site’s operation over coming days,” the company said in a statement.
NT Information Services Minister Eva Lawler took aim at Telstra after the failure, saying the Government had “made it clear to Telstra that often the outages are taking far too long to fix.”
“We work very hard to get Telstra to address outages as quickly as possible because we know that communities rely on these services not only to stay connected but to buy food and fuel,” she said.
Ms Lawler would not say if the Government was allocating resources to help communities during times of communication failure.
“The Government will also continue to advocate with the Australian Government, which has responsibility for telecommunications, to ensure Territorians can access reliable communications,” she said.