Reliable NBN internet a struggle for Macedon Ranges residents, who say budget funding is ‘too little, too late’

Rosemary Hiatt and her husband moved from Melbourne to Dunolly in 2018.

They had bought a house, were setting up a business in the main street and were looking forward to their “retirement” in the goldfields town.

But they soon realised local residents regularly faced a big challenge: connecting to the internet.

“We’re only an hour and a half from Melbourne,” Ms Hiatt said.

“You’ve got to suddenly become your own IT manager and work it all out for yourself.”

She found setting up her business to take online orders a frustrating, time-consuming process that included countless phone calls to her internet service provider.

Ms Hiatt is not connected to the National Broadband Network and an NBN spokesperson said she is able to connect.

a street
Working from home could be a problem for treechangers moving to the area, some locals say.(Supplied: Rosemary Hiatt)

Residents say there are regularly issues with outages and internet access in the Central Goldfields.

Ms Hiatt is concerned the technology is not keeping up with the population growth in regional and rural areas.

“During the pandemic, people were moving up to the country in droves. You could not buy a property here,” she said.

“The are so many people, and they’re all going to be so disappointed when working from home isn’t as easy as they thought.”

Resident turned ‘tech guru’ helps locals connect

Macedon Ranges resident Thomas Stockdale has helped more than 150 residents with internet issues.

When he started learning about how to overcome connection issues, more and more people came to him for advice. Now it’s his part-time job.

A selfie of a guy on a roof, next to an antenna.
Thomas Stockdale has been helping locals with their internet issues for years. (Supplied: Thomas Stockdale)

“It might be just a bit of simple advice, or it might be to put in 4G antennas and really just getting a connection they can actually use,” Mr Stockdale said.

He said many residents had gone to extreme lengths to connect to the internet.

“They’re really frustrated. They’re arguing with their telcos … just because they want a stable, reliable connection.

“They want to watch Netflix, they want to work from home, they want to contribute. They want to be within society.

Better internet on the way

NBN Fixed Wireless tower in Streaky Bay, South Australia.
NBN Co says it’s taken more than three years to secure a suitable site for the Riddells Creek fixed wireless tower.(Flickr: Beau Giles)

An national broadband network (NBN) spokesperson said hundreds of Macedon Ranges residents would soon be connected to better internet when two fixed wireless towers were installed.

“The vast majority of premises in the Lancefield and Macedon Ranges regions are serviced by NBN either through fixed line, fixed wireless or satellite services, with the exception of about 700 premises located outside the fixed-line network in Riddells Creek and Gisborne South,” the spokesperson said.

“[They] will soon be ready to connect when the new Riddells Creek and Gisborne South Towers are completed in the coming months.” 

The NBN spokesperson said the planned construction of these towers had been underway for some time.

Mr Stockdale said while this was great news, he still feared hundreds of residents could be left without unreliable internet. 

“I’ve helped a lot of people that have recently moved from Melbourne,” he said.

“But they’ve turned around and basically said, ‘How do we work?’

“‘How do we actually function and contribute? Because we can’t get internet.'”

Hundreds of millions to expand NBN

The federal government is contributing $480 million to a $750 million expansion of the NBN.

The upgrade will extend the reach of every NBN fixed wireless tower.

This will see about 1 million households across regional and rural Australia access higher speeds on NBN fixed wireless services or more data on Sky Muster services.

Lancefield resident Jim Kenneally said this was too little, too late.

He lives about 4 kilometres from Lancefield’s town centre.

Some in his area are connected to the NBN and some have spent thousands of dollars connecting to Elon Musk’s StarLink.

An NBN spokesperson said he is eligible to connect to the NBN, but Mr Kenneally said he had trouble when talking to his internet service provider.

As a pensioner, he can’t afford to spend thousands connecting to Elon Musk’s StarLink.

An NBN box on top of a roof.
The NBN is working on building two new fixed wireless towers in the Macedon Ranges Shire.(Supplied: Thomas Stockdale)

He said he felt isolated and disillusioned.

“We haven’t got the access to what actually is going on.

“You miss out or you don’t know what’s going on.”

In a big week for telecommunications funding, the state government  also announced a $73m partnership with NBN Co to upgrade fixed wireless networks in 54 locations across Victoria.

This includes 30 regional Victorian locations.

“The fixed wireless upgrades will leverage existing infrastructure to extend the range, speed and capacity of the existing fixed wireless towers through technology upgrades,” an NBN spokesperson said. 

“NBN is also proposing to unmeter NBN Sky Muster Plus data for the majority of the day with the off-peak period for unmetered data increasing to 16 hours per day, from the current six-hour window.

“For Sky Muster customers, NBN is aiming to increase average monthly data allowances to 55 gigabytes (GB), increasing to 90GB once the NBN fixed wireless upgrade is complete in around two and a half years’ time.”


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