AN upgrade to the Barcaldine telephone exchange has been moved forward a number of months following community outrage.
When three new doctors arrived in the town recently, giving Barcaldine its first full tranche of medicos in some years, they were unable to sign up for ADSL landline Internet services for their homes.
“They came up against the problem everyone else has been having – no Internet. This meant no lectures, no family video-conferencing – it was a huge issue for us,” Central West Hospital and Health Service spokesman David Rimmer said.
“We feared we could lose them, and we’d also lose a lot of credibility as an employer.”
While the doctors and their families have resorted to 3G mobile services, they say the bandwidth is so limited, they’re unable to study until well into the night and that it doesn’t support overseas video-conferencing with family.
After enquiries to Telstra, Mr Rimmer said they had been told no improvements were possible before January next year, which was revised to December 2015.
This week Telstra has announced that it will make improvements to the site in October.
“After reviewing community feedback and our planned works in the region, we are happy to confirm we have expedited the site upgrade in Barcaldine,” a spokesman said.
“While we are unable to release any information about what the works involve, there will be an increase to the number of available ports at the Barcaldine exchange, which should help improve services to the community.”
The announcement follows representations to Telstra by Queensland senator Barry O’Sullivan, who said he was embarrassed to be in a country that “can’t provide even baseline capacity for the medical profession”.
“I’m not sure who to blame,” he said. “Government has to make sure telecommunications meets a particular standard, but there might be some pragmatism on Telstra’s part that means there’s not enough services.”
“This is either poor planning and that’s bad, or deliberate planning, and that’s worse.”
Mr Rimmer questioned the lack of service in light of the departure of 70 people who had been using Barcaldine as a base for extensive road flood damage repairs.
“There are less people here than 12 months ago – how come we can’t access their ports,” he asked.
The Telstra spokesman responded that the availability of ADSL ports on its network changes over time with both demand and with upgrades to the network.
Mr Rimmer said his organisation had done everything they could to support the three doctors in the meantime, offering them the use of the surgery after hours for study.
“One of our doctors has family in rural Pakistan and he has to send letters to them.
“They fell about laughing when they discovered that he was in a developed country and he couldn’t get Internet.
“We’ve worked hard to recruit GPs for a long time and now their upskilling is affected.”