In the era of smartphones, access to communication in the bush goes far beyond talking and texting. It means running a business, monitoring hazards, and keeping in touch with family and friends across vast distances.
For Clayton Maynard – a cattle farmer, engineer, and mining contractor operating out of Orange, NSW – this has never rung so true. Like many in the area, Maynard depends on a reliable network not just to make calls, but to carry out online transactions with clients around the world. And in a dubiously shared experience, that’s not always possible. “The current service we get here is patchy at best. In some areas, it’s great – you don’t have to travel too far for it to drop out. (Phone calls) will drop out between 500m and 2km from our house, and regularly inside our house too.”
“Our clients operate around the clock, so the expectation is that we’re available to them 24/7, which makes it hard when you don’t have service in your kitchen.”
Maynard spends around 2-3 hours a day in the car travelling between businesses in Orange, Canowindra, Parkes, and Cobar. He installed a car kit to boost service, which helps, but he is adamant the black spots that existed six years ago are still there: “You get to know where the black spots are, I’m starting to know where to make phone calls and where not to make phone calls which really limits you… having to pick and choose where you do business makes it difficult and extremely frustrating.”
To put it bluntly, a lack of mobile service means a lack of business. Just like how Reg Kidd describes it, the business side of communication – tracking orders, observing market prices, and even training staff – relies on by-the-minute access to mobile coverage.
“If we were to see domestic roaming in our area, I think it would be a great thing.”
And for all its rewards, raising a family is constantly burdened as technology limits access to communication in times of emergency: “Family-wise we’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t been in an emergency where we desperately needed it, but it’s mostly frustration. We’ve got family members who come to visit from the city – if they’ve got different service providers they really struggle to communicate and find it when they’re here visiting.”
As we’ve heard in communities across regional Australia, the solution is to provide both coverage and choice for consumers.
“We’re very limited in choice here, which is not healthy for any industry – whether it be telecommunications or the cattle industry or IT – I think competition is healthy as a consumer. If you’ve only got one choice, then you’re the one who misses out.”
In realising how important reliable mobile coverage and choice of service provider is for Australians, particularly those living in regional and remote areas, Vodafone has been advocating for the regulation of domestic roaming.
Through domestic roaming, the cost of building and upgrading mobile networks can be shared between two or more mobile providers. Consumers would receive the benefits of choice, as multiple mobile providers would compete on the basis of one mobile network in many rural and remote areas.
For people like Maynard, this could deliver a much better outcome and end of years of frustration.
“I don’t think the current providers in the area are as innovative as they could be. The black spots in the area are the same black spots that they’ve been for the past umpteen years. I think if there was competition in the marketplace, that certainly wouldn’t be the case…If we were to see domestic roaming in our area, I think it would be a great thing. If we were to have numerous service providers pooling their resources, it can only be a good thing for all consumers.”
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