Most people rely on mobile phones and the internet for work, education, emergency information, and to keep in touch with friends and family.
But we know that telecommunications services simply aren’t reliable in many parts of the Yarra Ranges.
This has never been clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the June 2021 storms when 34 communities lost mobile and internet service for days, unable to contact 000 or family and friends. Some residents and businesses lost NBN service for more than three months.
That’s why Yarra Ranges Council has worked with the community to understand mobile and broadband connectivity issues across the region.
With this information, we’re advocating to telecommunications providers and to the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments for better infrastructure, and a system that’s stronger in the face of natural disasters.
Telecommunications study: mobile and broadband access
In 2020, we collected broadband speed tests from over 1300 homes and workplaces that voluntarily participated in Council’s survey. We also asked our community to tell us how they use the internet, and where they experienced poor mobile service.
The results show that:
- 98.4% of people in the Yarra Ranges rely on the internet to access emergency information
- 18 out of 61 locations that provided speed test results had a median upload/download speed lower than 12 Mb/s, which is the minimum NBN plan speed. Over 90% of users that reported these slow speeds were still using ADSL copper fixed internet services, and the remaining 10% had used fixed wireless or satellite NBN service.
Council also completed independent testing of mobile network quality along key road networks and sites, including schools, aged care homes, community refuges and CFA stations.
- Over 24,000+ sites were tested, with 25% of those sites having unusable or no service.
- Key blackspots appeared around East Warburton, Hoddles Creek, Steels Creek, Fernshaw and the Dandenong Ranges, where signal is notoriously unreliable.
Council’s testing of the mobile network used industry-standard methods and technologies, which provide a much more accurate picture of user experience than the carriers’ indicative coverage maps.
How Council is advocating for better service
With the insights gained from the telecommunications study, Council has been advocating for investment in local infrastructure that will improve mobile connectivity, ensure access to 000 in emergencies and strengthen broadband services.
We’ve shared our findings with other levels of government, NBN Co and the mobile carriers to understand how the issues facing our community can be resolved.
Some key outcomes include:
- Working with the mobile carriers to address key mobile blackspots, including identifying areas eligible for funding through the Mobile Blackspot Program, Peri-Urban Mobile Program and STAND program. Optus, for example, has a focus on reducing network vulnerability through bushfire events, and has applied for funding to increase back-up battery power for key mobile towers within the Yarra Ranges.
- Through the Federal Government’s STAND program, we’ve been successful in securing NBN satellites to be fixed at 10 Council facilities that serve as emergency relief centres during times of natural disaster. The satellites can be activated during and after an emergency when the broader network is down, providing temporary connectivity for affected residents. The satellites are expected to be installed by the end of 2021 at: Coldstream Community Hall, Healesville Memorial Hall, Warburton and Millgrove Sporting Complex, Yarra Junction Yarra Centre, Yarra Glen Memorial Hall, Monbulk Living and Learning Centre, Powelltown Sporting Clubrooms, Karwarra Gardens, Olinda Recreation Reserve and the Patch Public Hall.
- Council participated in consultations through the Victorian Government’s Connecting Victoria program – a $550 million program to improve mobile and broadband connectivity across the state. We highlighted key mobile blackspots and areas with slow broadband speeds across the Yarra Ranges, particularly areas prone to natural disasters. Council also nominated locations for upgrading NBN services from fixed wireless and satellite to Fibre to the Premises, as part of the Victorian Government’s submission to the NBN Co’s Regional Co-investment Fund.
How you can help
Thank you to the residents and businesses who participated in our telecommunications survey.
You can hear more about this issue in the video above.
Please subscribe to this page for further updates and opportunities to support Council’s advocacy for better connectivity.
How will Council’s survey and speed testing help the community?
The Yarra Ranges doesn’t have any formally recognised ‘blackspots’ in its mobile and internet coverage. The quality and accessibility of service is generally considered reasonable, which means we’re often overlooked for funding opportunities and we’re low on priority lists for upgrading services.
Our experience, particularly during COVID-19 restrictions, has shown that mobile and broadband service levels are extremely inconsistent across the municipality. Our survey and testing data provide evidence of this to other levels of government and telecommunications companies. It shows the true state of the connectivity in Yarra Ranges and the problems community members experience.
The information Council has gathered will also help us to plan for natural disasters, and ensure that communities have access to internet and mobile coverage throughout emergency events. This can include using portable mobile phone towers, such as those used in East Warburton in the period before a tower was built in the region.
Are telecommunications towers the only way to improve access?
No. However, they are one of main the options to improve the service across a broad area. We are using the insights gained from our study to work with telecommunications companies, and understand what solutions can help to improve mobile blackspots and areas with slow broadband service.
Are there things I can do to improve my service ahead of this work?
Things that could affect your Wi-Fi speed include:
- How far your device is from your Wi-Fi router or point(s). Often, moving your device closer to your router or point will improve your internet speeds.
- Walls and other objects located between your router and Wi-Fi points, or between your Wi-Fi points and mobile devices, may slow your connection. If possible, try to use your device within a clear line of sight to your router or point.
- Some devices do not support faster Wi-Fi standards, due to outdated technology. Speed is dependent on both the router or point and the device that is connected to it. If you have an older device, it is likely it will not support the latest standards for the fastest speeds.
- There could be signal interference due to traffic on your Wi-Fi network, on your neighbours’ Wi-Fi networks, or from other sources like microwaves or baby monitors.
- Apps and programs that work in the background can slow down your connection. For example, automatically installing upgrades or having many apps and browsing windows open at once.
Things that could affect your mobile telephone and broadband internet coverage.
- Walls and other objects located between your device and the closest mobile phone tower. If possible, try to use your device within a clear line of sight to the mobile phone tower.
- Devices connected on older 3G services may not achieve speeds as fast as the 4G or 5G services.
- The number of other users in the immediate area of the mobile phone tower that you are using.
The quality and speed of the service you have purchased will also have a significant impact on speeds, especially when connected to NBN services.
Small businesses running on domestic packages should investigate the commercial equivalent, which are often better suited for business purposes.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (national regulator) has a guide on ‘Improving your home internet’ that may help you further.
If you are located in a regional area, the Regional Tech Hub can help you to access services and troubleshoot connectivity problems.
What should I do to prepare for emergency events and power outages?
During disaster season, it’s recommended that you refresh your emergency preparedness plans and make sure you know what to do to stay connected as much as possible, if an emergency event or power outage occurs.
The NBN has offered the following tips:
- Keep a charged mobile phone and portable mobile battery pack ready to use in a power outage, or if your nbn™ connection is disrupted in an emergency event. Consider turning off cellular data on unnecessary apps to save battery.
- Local radio is a good source of information during an emergency, so include a battery powered radio in your emergency communications kit. Also follow emergency services, including your state Fire and Rescue and Police Services, as well as utility companies and nbn (@NBN_Australia) on social media for updates.
- To make sure you can access important information and essential documents from anywhere, including insurance policies and financial documents, consider creating a digital back up on a USB or in the cloud.
- If there is a power outage, equipment connected to nbn™ services will not work. For home needs during these times, you might want to consider investing in an alternative power source, like a generator. Unfortunately though, alternative options like generators will not bring back home internet if the nbn™ network is also experiencing a power loss. In the event nbn needs to restore services during an emergency, it will work closely with power companies and the emergency services and work to restore services as soon as it is safe to do so.
Does having a 5G service have health impacts?
No. We are aware of speculation that 5G networks cause health issues, but there is currently no evidence to support that theory. 5G services and telecommunications services, such as Wi-Fi routers and 4G services from mobile phone towers are safe and strictly monitored. The Australian Communications and Media Authority has plenty of information that may help clarify those concerns based on the latest research, which can be found here.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency has also clarified that there are no effects to your immune system that can be connected to 5G or other telecommunications services, as explained here.
For more information
Call 1300 368 333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org