Molyul­lah black hole

Shepparton News - Country News - - FRONT PAGE - By Alana Chris­tensen

At beef farmer John Knap­per’s farm, set among the rolling hills of Molyul­lah, there’s one sound you will never hear — a mo­bile phone ring­ing.

Mr Knap­per lives in a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion black hole. He re­lies on his landline to re­ceive calls and gets his tele­vi­sion sig­nal via satel­lite.

Mr Knap­per said it was a source of con­stant frus­tra­tion and ev­ery time he wanted to make a call he was forced to re­turn to the landline phone in his home.

‘‘You re­ally can’t be with­out (a mo­bile phone) in this day and age,’’ he said.

‘‘You couldn’t rely on us­ing any sort of con­nec­tion out in the pad­dock.’’

Mr Knap­per was re­cently con­nected to the NBN and has pre­vi­ously in­quired about other com­mu­ni­ca­tions op­tions to gain mo­bile phone re­cep­tion, which would cost more than $3000 with no guar­an­tee it would de­liver cov­er­age.

Although tow­ers are sched­uled to go up in his area soon, Mr Knap­per said he wasn’t hold­ing out too much hope.

‘‘I’m not hold­ing my breath be­cause there’s a cou­ple of hills be­tween where we live and where we think the tower will be,’’ he said.

Camp­bell Grif­fin, who lives in a val­ley in Molyul­lah which also does not re­ceive mo­bile phone cov­er­age, has spent a num­ber of years ad­vo­cat­ing for change. Mr Grif­fin has been forced to use a satel­lite phone since the Black Satur­day bush­fires dis­con­nected his ser­vice, and said the gov­ern­ment’s def­i­ni­tion of a landline as the ba­sic ser­vice all in­di­vid­u­als were en­ti­tled to from their providers was no longer ac­cept­able.

‘‘The gov­ern­ment re­ally needs to change its pol­icy . . . the re­al­ity is that the ba­sic ser­vice to­day should be a mo­bile phone,’’ he said. ‘‘They need to wake up to each other.’’ Mr Knap­per’s and Mr Grif­fin’s sto­ries are not un­com­mon, and the VFF has said re­gional ar­eas were be­ing left be­hind as telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions up­grades and the NBN roll­out dragged on.

The VFF urged the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to in­vest fur­ther in ru­ral telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions at a Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion in­quiry early this month.

VFF vice-pres­i­dent Brett Hosk­ing said the gov­ern­ment’s Univer­sal Ser­vices Obli­ga­tion, which en­sures all Aus­tralians get a ba­sic level of ser­vice from their providers, had lost its rel­e­vance.

‘‘The cur­rent USO is se­ri­ously out­dated and ig­nores the de­pen­dence of our daily lives on mo­bile phones and the in­ter­net,’’ Mr Hosk­ing said.

‘‘Mo­bile cov­er­age es­pe­cially is cru­cial not just for farm safety, but for ev­ery­thing from check­ing mar­ket re­ports on your phone to email­ing yield data to your agron­o­mist.’’

Mr Hosk­ing said there were con­cerns the NBN was un­able to de­liver a ba­sic level of ser­vice for ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

‘‘In Vic­to­ria, just as across the coun­try, the NBN has failed the pub test be­cause the roll­out has been slow and there’s real con­cern that so far the ser­vice isn’t de­liv­er­ing the ser­vice most farm­ers and ru­ral fam­i­lies need, such as qual­ity re­cep­tion and down­load ca­pac­ity,’’ he said.

‘‘We re­ceive com­plaints from farm­ers frus­trated about the level of ser­vice be­ing pro­vided un­der the USO when it’s clear an ef­fort isn’t be­ing made to en­sure we can keep up with our city cousins as tech­nol­ogy rapidly ad­vances.’’

No sig­nal . . . The hills of Molyul­lah are not alive with the sound of ring­ing mo­bile phones.

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