January 24, 2020 17:40:15
Widespread Telstra outages in several Aboriginal communities in a remote area of Central Australia are shutting down stores, putting lives at risk and preventing people from accessing their money, according to community members.
- Up to 2,000 people were affected by a Telstra outage that lasted more than 48 hours
- Community members were forced to leave town because they could not buy food
- Telstra says the problem was due to a mains power outage as well as faulty hardware that had to be replaced
The region north-west of Alice Springs is home to 2,000 people and in the past week has experienced outages lasting more than 48 hours.
Telstra has told the ABC that the problem has been resolved, but in Arlparra — one of the Aboriginal communities affected — store manager Annie Bremmer said her business had been without internet access since Wednesday.
Many members in the community have their income managed by Centrelink through the basics card, which allows people to send money directly to approved stores.
But without internet, retailers are unable to access these transfers.
“People have been unable to pay for food using their Basics card since Wednesday, and we are very worried it won’t be fixed before the long weekend — it’s very serious,” Ms Bremmer said.
Store co-manager Gary Bremmer estimated the blackout had so far cost their business, and the Aboriginal community that owned it, $30,000 in lost revenue.
“[Our customers have] kids to feed, and we are being as patient and accessible as possible without compromising the business, but it’s not good,” he said.
“I’d say about 60 per cent of our customers have left town because of this.”
Michael Gravenor, the CEO of the Urapuntja Aboriginal Corporation which owns the Arlparra store, said these events had forced many community members to drive over 300 kilometres to Alice Springs to access food and amenities.
“They go around searching desperately for food … people are knocking on my door for food,” he said.
“Often people just hit the road to Alice Springs to find sustenance and we mightn’t see them for quite a while, it costs a hundred bucks in a car [to drive to Alice], if you even have a car.”
‘Lives at risk’
David Smith, the CEO of the Ampilatwatja Health Centre, 330 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, said there had been longer-term problems with outages and the latest was the fifth extended outage that had affected the clinic in 12 months.
He said he had lodged four complaints to the telecommunications ombudsman about the outages, which he believed had serious implications for people’s safety.
“It puts lives at risk, we have had evacs during these outages and they have impacted on the care of patients,” he said.
“We have to rely on satellite phones, which means standing stationary outside, so we have situations where clinic staff are shouting important information at each other, one outside on the phone and one inside with a patient.”
Mr Smith also said the outages meant that the clinic couldn’t access My Health Record or access patient histories and that patients could not call the clinic for medical help.
“People go to clinic staff’s houses, they call the emergency after-hours phone and it doesn’t work,” he said.
“I don’t want death to be the next thing that happens because of [Telstra’s] poor management.”
NT Cattlemen’s Association CEO Ashley Manicaros said his members were also concerned about blackouts.
“We had an issue last July where the son of a pastoralist [in the region] had a motor bike incident, almost lost his leg, but unfortunately the Telstra service had been playing up, hadn’t been fixed after several months,” he said.
“They had to go to another house on the property to communicate with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but they were several hundred metres from where the patient was, they couldn’t call immediately for help, or communicate exactly what was going on with the patient in real time.”
Telstra blames power outages
In response to questions about the outages over the past week, Telstra regional general manager Nic Danks said a mains power outage caused a mobile and landline outage in the area, which affected 3G, 4G and landlines.
“Following the mains power outage there was another issue with faulty hardware which impacted the radio transmission links,” he said.
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“A technician was sent to the site yesterday and managed to replace the damaged equipment and restore services.
“We fully appreciate the frustrations that local communities feel when their communication services are impacted and apologise for any inconvenience during this period.”
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