Increasingly frequent phone and internet outages plaguing the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja have left residents without a way to contact the local health clinic and police in emergencies.
- Ampilatwatja has been left without phone and internet services six times in the past nine months
- A doctor working at the community’s health clinic says it’s dangerous
- Telstra says it is planning to visit and discuss the issues with the remote community next month
About 350 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, Ampilatwatja is one of dozens of communities in the region that experience regular telecommunication outages that can take up to several weeks to resolve.
Due to a range of factors such as cloudy weather and hardware issues, Ampilatwatja has been without fixed line and mobile services six times in the past nine months.
Bruce Slonim, a locum doctor at the Ampilatwatja Health Centre, said the community was “desperate” for a permanent solution and better communication from service provider Telstra.
“It happens so often, it feels hopeless,” he said, speaking Monday from the clinic’s satellite phone due to an outage that had been ongoing for five days.
The outage has since been resolved.
Dr Slonim said each time the connection went down his health team and community members were left on tenterhooks, dreading a potentially catastrophic event occurring.
Desperate for a solution
The general practitioner has worked in Ampilatwatja on and off for 11 years, usually spending four to six weeks in the community at a time.
He said it was only a matter of time before someone died because of a telecommunication failure.
“We’ve been lucky so far that we haven’t lost anyone, but there have been a couple of close calls,” he said.
Amid the most recent outage Dr Slonim said a man had a heart attack at a bush camp, about a 10-minute drive from the clinic.
But since no-one was able to ring the clinic for an ambulance it took over an hour for the man to receive professional medical attention.
In a separate event over the weekend, a domestic violence incident spilled into the street, leaving residents fearing for their lives.
Dr Slonim said it took hours for police to be contacted and arrive at the scene where a man had been driving erratically through the streets and “trying to run over” pedestrians.
‘There must be someone we can contact’
The doctor said the community had great difficulty reporting the faults to Telstra and felt “hopeless” about the issue.
Dr Slonim said the reporting process was lengthy and plagued with logistical issues, which left the community feeling abandoned by the telco.
“We’ve never had any feedback from Telstra despite all our phone calls and all our emails,” he said.
He said the community was “extremely frustrated” and had pleaded for Telstra to lay out a plan to improve the current situation.
‘Major upgrades’ on the way
In a statement, Telstra said services had been restored to the community on Monday afternoon after a hardware issue on a transmission line.
Nic Danks, Telstra’s NT regional general manager, said the telco was aware of the importance of providing connectivity in remote communities and always tried to fix services as quickly as possible.
“Outages can be caused by many factors and occur in a variety of locations,” he said.
“In this case, the part that needed replacing was not in Ampilatwatja, it was more than 70km away near Sandover at one of our repeater sites.
Mr Danks said Telstra was planning to visit Ampilatwatja next month to “talk to the community about telecommunications”, and would provide credits to the accounts of impacted customers.
He said in the longer term there would be a major upgrade taking place that would improve the performance and reliability of mobile connectivity in the Ampilatwatja area.
“As part of a $1.48 million co-investment [in the] Regional Connectivity Program project between Telstra and the Commonwealth government, the mobile base station and transmission network to the area will be upgraded,” he said.
Mr Danks said the contract was signed in late-2021 and planning and design was currently underway.