Grong Grong is currently embroiled in a Kafkaesque tussle with Telstra over their mobile coverage, and residents are at their wits’ end.
“The phone system works in the paddock, but doesn’t work where the businesses are,” said Phil Sproston, a Grong Grong resident and business owner. “It’s not the fact that we don’t have it, it’s the fact that we’ve only got a quarter of it.
“They spent $17 million on the road diversion, but who wants to stay overnight in a town where you can’t get any phone signal?”
A quick glance at Telstra’s network coverage maps can confirm that the major streets of Grong Grong are classed as 3G external antenna. This, as Telstra’s website explains, means that ‘using an external antenna can maximise the predicted coverage or data speed at this location. ‘We recommend you test the coverage first and, if required, buy an external antenna.’
Most of the businesses fall under this weak signal area, as well as the fire station.
“The fire station can’t get phone service, and they are definitely in the middle of trying to sort things out,” Mr Sproston said.
However, further along the Newell Highway – and into surrounding paddocks – the mobile signal is 4GX, meaning that users can reach download speeds of between 2 and 75 Mbps.
“When you look at the map, you wonder what the hell they were doing,” Mr Sproston said. “My kick is that it’s so close. It’s that somebody hasn’t read their map.”
Desperate for help and frustrated with trying to get any written confirmations from Telstra, Mr Sproston organised a meeting with the Member for Farrer, Sussan Ley.
“Sussan Ley has been very good. She gave us some great advice and she also suggested a booster, which I’d never heard of,” he said.
According to Mr Sproston, a temporary measure would be a booster system. The booster system amplifies mobile signals and while boosters, antennas and repeaters can be bought by individuals and businesses, the system described by Mr Sproston would boost mobile phone signals for half a kilometre.
“My gripe is getting a temporary fix. Half a kilometre would fix the town.”
The bigger issue than just mobile service, according to Mr Sproston, is safety. When the NBN switches over fully, landlines will also be converted to the NBN. Unfortunately, this means that in the event of a blackout or a power outage, the landlines will no longer work. No landlines, combined with shoddy mobile service for the town could leave people in a difficult position if disaster strikes.
“It’s a safety issue. You think you’ve got a phone and then something happens and you don’t,” Mr Sproston said.
According to Telstra, the problem has been noted and the company is trying to fix Grong Grong’s signal woes.
“We are aware of the coverage concerns of residents in Grong Grong and we’re currently looking at solutions to improve coverage for the area,” a spokesperson for Telstra said. “We understand the importance of mobile connectivity in regional and rural areas.
“That is why we are making significant investments in expanding our 4G coverage across the country as well as through our support of the Federal Government Mobile Black-spot Program.
“We offer a range of solutions to help customers in regional areas boost their mobile coverage, including Yagi antennas and the Telstra Go Repeater,” the spokesperson said.