Telecommunications issues continue to plague the bush, with poor internet connectivity and mobile service affecting regional and rural businesses, educations and alarmingly, residents safety and wellbeing.
Queensland Country Life surveyed a number of readers about their concerns regarding telecommunications issues across rural and regional Queensland, and the results overwhelmingly suggested the need for significant changes.
The most concerning finding was that only 35 per cent of rural residents confirmed that they could definitely call someone for help in an emergency, with eight out of ten respondents pointing out that mobile reception was dependent on their location within their property.
One rural respondent reported that they were unable to get through to emergency services when they experienced a farm accident a few years ago, despite calling numerous times.
Another said "I sometimes have one bar if I stand in a certain spot and don't move. If there was an emergency I probably wouldn't be in that spot."
Of the 146 survey respondents, 90 per cent stated that they live in on a property outside of a township, but it appears poor mobile service is also causing headaches for residents of regional centres.
Despite mobile reception being deemed an essential service, 75 per cent of total survey respondents rated their mobile phone service as poor to very poor.
In terms of internet connectivity, 95 per cent of respondents confirmed that an adequate internet connection was essential for their work or study, while 71 per cent stated that poor internet affected their day-to-day business somewhat, to a great deal.
One respondent said that "running several businesses from home with sometimes poor internet can be very frustrating and can cause a loss of income," while another stated that the Internet is too slow, and it is impossible to use mapping programs such as Queensland Globe which help our farming requirements."
Unsurprisingly, rural respondents reported that their internet connectivity was particularly bad, with 68 per cent saying they would consider their internet to be of poor quality, while 47 per cent of regional respondents saying that they too would consider the quality of their internet connectivity to be poor.
66 per cent of total respondents also said that the reliability of their internet connection was poor to very poor.
One of the survey respondents Nikki Strenzel said that despite her family living between the larger townships of Yeppoon and Rockhampton, the level of internet connection was well-below adequate.
Ms Strenzel said that the poor service became overly apparent during the COVID pandemic while her children were required to do home school and she also needed to run their business from home.
"From 7:30pm, almost on the dot, it will cut out and we will have no internet," she said.
"On the weekends as well, or if it's raining, sometimes it will just cut out altogether.
"It is hard because we run a small business in Yeppoon and when I try to work from home, especially during COVID, and the kids were trying to do school from home, it was almost impossible."
Additionally, Ms Strenzel's parents also live in the Cawarral area and were extremely concerned with the lack of mobile phone service after her father had a heart attack.
"We've got no phone service really, or we've got very little, because it cuts in and out and it's really unreliable," Ms Strenzel said.
"It's quite surprising because we live so close to Rockhampton and I'd consider it a fairly major centre, and in this day and age, I would have thought that we'd have access to reliable phone service.
"My parents had no phone service for two weeks and then my dad had a heart attack.
"They've only got the option of a mobile phone and the mobile phone tower went out and it was considered a low priority.
"Dad was trying to get onto Telstra to try and deal with the problem, because there's no landline option out there, and there was no real effort from them to fix it.
"So he had no phone, living in a rural location and he spent a lot of time at home by himself while my Mum was at work, so that was a bit scary."
The lack of reliability in mobile service for rural residents appears to be a state wide issue, with respondents from a variety of areas reporting that they were concerned that in the case of an emergency, they would not be able to call someone for help.
Lee Scott, Ruan Grazing, near Clermont, said that she also worried about access to emergency services due to poor mobile reception, particularly with her elderly parents now living with her and her husband on their property.
"My concern is whenever anyone goes out on their own, I mean, it's just a safety issue, isn't it?" she said.
"I know some places where I drive, and I'm astounded that there's no coverage.
"My dad and mum are living here with me now and it's becoming more evident.
"Everyday we live in a world where there's such high risk. Of course emergencies are going to happen in the bush all the time and it is a very big fear that each and every one of us live with.
"It's got to be up there as one of the biggest problems, not being able to reach people, mainly for safety and security."
Ms Scott and her husband said that although their internet connection is quite reliable, it is still very slow and different services, like streaming, are not an option for those living out of town.
"Everybody runs their business on the internet now, it's such a computerised world," Ms Scott said.
"And again, in comparison to what is out there, we're way behind the eight ball."
Flinders Shire Council Mayor Jane McNamara likened connectivity across rural Queensland as a "patchwork quilt," noting that there are still several black spots on crucial roads around the north-west, but said improvements are being made to solve mobile reception issues.
Ms McNamara said she hoped that budgeted improvements to western connectivity would be upheld with the recent change in federal government.
"We've got two black spots along the Kennedy Development Road which are supposed to be brought online by June 2023, so that will make a huge difference.
"That will add to the safety and and also the viability of those properties along that that road which is going to be a major highway between Cairns and Hughenden, and beyond.
"I was speaking with the lady from Telstra the other day and there's another black spot to the south of Hughenden which we've been trying to sort out on Chinbi tower for a very long time and she tells me that they haven't forgotten about it.
"We also have the Wi-Sky group who have been putting in loops of towers along the Flinders Highway from Richmond to Corfield and then there's another one from Marathon to Stamford and looping back to Hughenden.
"They've got quite good connectivity and it's working quite well.
"So we still have a lot of gaps but there are several different organisations out there that are helping us with connectivity."
State Government was contacted in regards to their plans for improvement on telecommunications in the bush, but due to a tight deadline were unable to respond for this week's edition. A follow-up including these comments will be included in next week's Queensland Country Life.
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