Telstra outage leaves Woorinen residents without home phone or internet service for two weeks

Last week, Lorri Lambert received a phone call any person would dread — her sister-in-law was suffering a mild stroke and needed help contacting emergency services.

Ms Lambert missed the call initially, due to a service outage affecting her home phone.

“I didn’t know my sister-in-law couldn’t get through … she hadn’t called the ambulance because she didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Ms Lambert only gets mobile phone reception in one room of her house and relies on the home phone for emergencies. 

“It was very stressful for her and for us as a family not to be able to have the ambulance there as quickly as it should have been.”

A women sitting at a desk with a computer.
Lorri Lambert relies on her home phone for emergency calls.(ABC News: Francesco Salvo)

Ms Lambert is among scores of residents at Woorinen, Woorinen South and Beverford, in north-west Victoria, who have been dealing with major disruptions to their landline phone and internet services for close to a fortnight.

Residents ‘in limbo’

According to Telstra’s website, the problem stemmed from “cable damage caused by independent construction” that was identified on April 26.

Customers were advised that the issue would be fixed within a week, but 13 days later, they continue to grapple with sporadic internet access and cut phone lines.

In a statement, a Telstra spokesperson clarified that the fault was in fact cased by water damage.

Two Telstra cars on a dirt road.
Telstra advised customers the outage would be fixed in a week, but they still have no phone or internet access.(ABC News: Francesco Salvo)

The spokesperson said a replacement cable would be delivered last Thursday, nine days after the fault was detected, and “customers would begin to see progressive restoration from Friday”.

However on Monday morning, Ms Lambert said the outage still had not been fixed.

“You ring up [Telstra] to speak to someone and they say it will be fixed by 7pm tomorrow and we have been told that three or four times now,” she said.

“Not getting a decent answer is very frustrating — they haven’t offered any compensation.

Decade-long fight

Ms Lambert said poor connectivity and ageing infrastructure had long plagued the region, and residents had been calling for faster internet and better mobile phone coverage for close to a decade.

Two years ago, a petition was tabled in the Victorian parliament highlighting the community’s concerns.

Woorinen grower and Swan Hill Summer Fruits Association President Dean Morpeth was heavily involved in that campaign and said reliable coverage was crucial for local horticulturalists.

Man stands with his arms crossed in front of blossoming fruit trees
Dean Morpeth says poor connectivity means local farmers cannot benefit from new developments in agricultural technology.(ABC Rural: Caitlyn Gribbin)

He said phone reception was “non-existent” at his fruit packing facility and that he had needed to invest in booster devices, which could be “inconsistent” at times.

“[But] without those, you’ll just walk outside and your phone will start dinging with missed calls,” he said.

“In terms of Internet, we were at two to three download speed — it was so slow.”

Mr Morpeth said the internet would regularly drop out, “making business really difficult”, and that bad connectivity meant fruit growers were unable to take advantage of new developments in agricultural technology.

“Things take longer and the stress on people to try and keep up is unfair.”

Following Mr Morpeth’s petition, the Andrews government announced a $3.2 million plan for better coverage that included building a new 4G mobile base station at Beverford, and a new 4G mobile small cell at Woorinen South.

A green shed with a Telstra sign
Woorinen residents have been calling for better internet and mobile phone infrastructure for years. (ABC News: Francesco Salvo)

Ms Lambert was hopeful the new infrastructure would help address some of the township’s connectivity problems.

She said improvements were vital given how much community members had struggled during the coronavirus lockdowns, particularly those like her two children who were studying remotely.

“Sometimes we would be sitting in a car outside a friend’s house using their internet during the pandemic,” she said.

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