Residents in a leafy town just 150 kilometres from Australia’s largest city say they feel so let down by the NBN that they’ve begun crowdfunding to build their own broadband.
Monique Maul, who owns a cafe in Kangaroo Valley south-west of Sydney, said her business lost internet access so often that it had threatened thousands of dollars in sales.
“One time when the whole place was packed and there was no internet, I looked at all the sales owing to me –it was $1000 –and instantly I go into panic mode,” she said.
“How am I going to get $1000 from a whole restaurant full of customers that can’t process their bills through an eftpos machine, knowing very well that the ATM machines were also out?”
Ms Maul said her only option was to give out to her personal bank details.
“I had to make out IOUs because people didn’t have enough funds. It was just a nightmare.
“If someone is presented with, ‘I’m sorry we can’t actually take your payment because our eftpos machine is down’, they will just go on to the next town.
“I don’t like to put all of my eggs in one basket, but for the general success of every single cafe, every single retail business in our tourist-based village, we need to have internet that’s 110 per cent reliable.”
Tired of dealing with such unpredictability, Ms Maul is backing the town’s proposal to build its own broadband network, named the Kangaroo Valley Broadband Network.
Project lead John Sinclair said he hoped bypassing the NBN would lead to greater equality in internet services.
“We’re not buying from NBN, we’re just connecting into the internet themselves,” he said.
“We’ll lease a fibre-optic line from Nowra to Sydney.
“The NBN was originally to make the bush the same as the city; the same prices, the same opportunity.”
But Mr Sinclair said despite having access to ADSL, mobile broadband, fixed wireless and satellite services, a better solution was required.
“We have an ADSL2 service in the village. We have an ADSL1 service reaching out of the village down a couple of roads, but that’s it. When it rains we tend to have problems with ADSL service,” he said.
“There’s a mobile phone base station tower here so people can get mobile broadband, but that’s limited to having enough signal strength to do that.
“There’s NBN fixed wireless, which is mainly the village, and of course there’s NBN satellite, which leaves very much to be desired.”
$80,000 worth of support
With internet access an issue for many, including local businesses, Mr Sinclair is calling on residents to pitch in $1000 each to get the project off the ground.
“We’re in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign now, and when we get enough money we’re going to bring in the signal via radio over the mountain from Nowra and then distribute that around the valley,” he said.
“[If created] we’ll have eight or 10 base stations where we’ll get all of the nooks and crannies.”
With just over three weeks to run, almost $90,000 has been pledged of the requested $120,000.
“Each subscriber is pledging $1000 and that gets you a connection and a professional installation, all of the equipment and three months of unlimited internet,” Mr Sinclair said.
“But there have been three other supporters — they haven’t said why they’re doing it, but a lot of people here in the valley are signed up, even though they’ve got good internet from the NBN.
“They’re signing up because this is a great initiative and they want to support the community.”
In a statement, an NBN Co spokesperson said the network would be rolled out to all Australians by 2020, using technology that best suited the region.
“The choice of technology is decided area by area based on the best solution for the location, with several factors considered including geographical location, existing infrastructure, cost and time to build,” the statement said.
According to the statement, take up of NBN services in Kangaroo Valley was consistent with other regional towns “similar in nature”.
“As with any wireless broadband solution, capacity is not infinite and needs to carefully monitored and managed in order to deliver a network that can provide the best customer experience.”
The spokesperson added that upgrades were underway. They are expected to be available by September.