Satellite Internet in Rural Australia

This week I am investigating people’s internet connectivity experiences relating to the rollout of the National Broadband network in Australia. I interviewed my friend Isaac in order to build this brief ethnographic account of how connecting to the NBN has impacted his life in recent times. Isaac lives in a remote area of New South Wales named Captains Flat, located about an hours drive south-east of Canberra. The area has historically experienced poor internet connectivity and I was curious to learn how gaining access to NBN has affected life in his area of rural Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics detailed that in 2015, the number of Australian farms accessing the internet was relatively low- approximately 67%. The total number of Australian households with access to the internet at home was far greater, reaching 7.7 million in 2014–15, representing 86% of all homes (up from 83% in 2012–13). Thirty-six percent of farms in New South Wales still did not have access to the internet at the time these statistics were released; a number that was surpassed only by properties Victoria (38%) and Tasmania (41%). These statistics show that as of late 2015, the rate of Internet connectivity on farms (especially in NSW) is low when compared to the rest Australia.

Isaac’s property has been connected to the internet for some time, yet until recently, he was experiencing poor levels of connectivity due to the remote location of Captains Flat. The NBN Network Rollout Map shows that Captains Flat is not yet connected to the NBN, however, this data is incorrect. Isaac informed me that his farm has recently been connected to the NBN ‘Sky Muster’ satellite network. The  ‘Sky Muster’ satellite service is dedicated to providing broadband connectivity to regional and remote Australia. Isaac stated the satellite went live in April and has since improved the overall Internet connectivity at his home.

 

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Four Dishes: the Imparja NT satellite from the Northern territory, Foxtel, Obsolete IPstar Internet, and The NBN satellite. Image courtesy of Isaac Hurley

 

Isaac also explained that having a reliable internet connection at his property is beneficial for people such as himself who live in remote locations. He stated, “In the case of an emergency, even a heavy storm can stop our landline phone. As the roof mounted satellite (which connects to the NBN) doesn’t require a phone line it can become the only way to contact anyone from the farm. This situation has thankfully never come up but it definitely gives peace of mind that one won’t be completely cut off from the world by a storm.” This shows that NBN internet connectivity provides a reliable means of communication for Australians who could otherwise be cut off from the outside world during an emergency.

 

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Isaac’s computer station in Captains Flat NSW. Image courtesy of Isaac Hurley

 

Emergency communication is not the sole benefit of having reliable internet on the property. The recent upgrade to the NBN satellite has provided the bandwidth necessary for Isaac to watch YouTube and other media rich websites, a luxury he was not previously afforded. The newNBN satellite plans do however only offer comparatively restrictive data limits to those found in urban areas . The NBN satellite coverage offers a maximum of 65gb of downloads per month, where an urban dweller can access unlimited downloads- for a fraction of the cost. This means that services such as YouTube must be used sparingly and rationed between the four residents of the farm. Upon exceeding the limit, the internet slows to 128kbs. Isaac said, “That is a bit more than twice the speed of the internet 18 years ago. It is so slow you may as well not internet (access)”. While this can at times prove an inconvenience, the new NBN service  has proven superior to the previous model of which he had become accustomed.

Overall, the recent upgrade to the NBN network has proven beneficial for Isaac and his family in rural Australia. The network is now faster, and more reliable, providing peace-of-mind and access to content that was not previously available. While the NBN satellite service does not offer the same high download limits afforded to residents in the city, it does potentially save Isaac from a  10-40 minute drive to access mobile data during an emergency.

 

 

Thank you to Isaac Hurley for offering his time and knowledge on this project

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