Phone faults and no help

With no mobile service residents of Bowmans Creek and Goorangoola rely on their landlines for all telecommunications.

But now even those landlines have become unreliable, a situation which the community feels, puts lives and property at risk.

“We are members of the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and how can anyone be contacted when neither our landlines or mobiles work,” said an extremely frustrated Kayla Marshall.

Kayla and her family husband Wayne, and his parents Richard and Cheryl Marshall and their neighbours, have been battling with Telstra to get improved phone services in the district for years in her case for five long years.

“When we built our home on our family’s property at Bowmans Creek five years ago it took 16 weeks to have the landline installed. At the time our son Harrison was only six weeks old and with no mobile service and no landline it was a concern if we ever needed help,” Kayla said.

“Since then the landline is really playing up more than it works, if we can make a call the crackling down the line is atrocious and its a bit like being on the old party line, we can hear other conversations from our neighbours and no doubt they can hear ours.

“Look we don’t live in a remote part of the country just on a property 50kms north east of Singleton but Telstra can’t or won’t do anything about our service.”

Following a recent planned electricity outage, to allow for upgrade work, the local telephone exchange failed as its back up batteries were flat. 

That resulted in all the district’s telephone landlines dropping out until a technician could be found who was capable of restarting the system and enabling the batteries to be recharged.

This so angered and frustrated Cheryl Marshall that she contacted the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) hoping they maybe able to provide some assistance.

The Marshall family

The Marshall family

However, according to Mrs Marshall the TIO was no more helpful than Telstra. 

“We had no landlines for three days after the power outage and during my initial call to the TIO I was told it was not a Telstra issue but rather to do with the NBN. But a second call from the TIO I was told it had nothing to do with NBN,” she said. “So that was no help at all. The only thing they offered was a refund of $13.75 to cover the fact my phone was out of service for three days which we don’t care about what we want is a reliable phone service.”

Residents have contacted their Federal member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon who said “We have been trying to get the landline issues sorted with only limited success.  It’s just not acceptable in the 21st Century for people to be without basic phone services.” 

“This all goes back to privatisation and the weakening of the Community Service Obligation. The mobile service problem in the area is one of many in our region. We are slowly addressing the black spots but we have a long way to go.”

One numerous occasions the Marshalls and other residents have been told by the technicians coming on behalf of Telstra to fix the landlines that the landline wires are too old and the exchange needs to be upgraded. 

Their question to Telstra is why can neither be undertaken or a mobile tower installed to provide a far better mobile coverage for the district.

Families have purchased satellite phones but Kayla said during heatwaves like their internet service they don’t work or drop out.  Kayla operates a dance studio at the Mount Olive Hall which is also the location for a mobile pre-school held two days a week and various other district activities.

According to Kayla the hall and the local primary school Mount Pleasant Public also have very poor mobile reception.

 “As a community we have looked at installing a mobile booster as the hall which we estimate will cost $3000 we have sought funding and so far nothing has been forthcoming.”

“In today’s technology-reliant world, not having access to adequate mobile reception and internet services is proving to be an immense challenge for residents in pockets of the Singleton community,” Singleton Mayor, Cr Sue Moore said.

“Just 90 minutes from the state’s second biggest city – Newcastle – phone coverage drops from full to zero. And for people that live and work in these towns and hamlets of the Singleton LGA, the daily battle of poor connectivity is causing endless frustration.

“I know that these residents have had enough, with many raising their concerns with me of the effect it is having on their personal safety during emergencies, property values or businesses.

“The federal government are taking steps to rectify this issue, with round four of Australian Government’s $220m Mobile Black Spot Program set to be announced very soon.

“Council will continue advocate on behalf of our community with the relevant government departments, ministers and service providers.”

Mike Marom, Regional General Manager for Telstra in NSW said  Telstra apologises for any inconvenience to customers when landline services are disrupted, and always works to restore landline faults as quickly as possible.

Any Telstra customers with service issues can report a fault by calling 13 22 00.

For areas where mobile coverage is minimal or non-existent but are connected to the internet at home, mobile calls can also be made and received on many popular handsets through wifi calling, a free setting that enables mobile service. For more information about wifi calling please contact Telstra.  

And from the TIO:

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s jurisdiction doesn’t give us power to compel providers to provide mobile coverage in blackspot areas, we encourage people to contact the Mobile Blackspots Program if they are in this situation.

We can assist with complaints about services that are not working, but our jurisdiction does not extend to the kind of infrastructure used to provide a service. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is free and independent dispute resolution service for residential consumers and small businesses and who have a complaint about their phone or internet service.