Elon Musk’s internet proves an unlikely saviour for rural Australians suffering connectivity ‘fatigue’

Elon Musk’s internet proves an unlikely saviour for rural Australians suffering connectivity ‘fatigue’

From his cattle ranch six hours west of Brisbane, Peter Thompson laughs at the idea of ​​replacing his workplace with a Tesla, but he’s happy to pay $140 every month into Elon Musk’s back pocket.

While Twitter users around the world boycotted the billionaire, who controversially bought the social platform before immediately sacking more than 3,000 staff and reinstating Donald Trump’s membership, rural Australians were not so quick to back Musk’s products. don’t beat

The reason: Its Internet service works where competitors’ services do not.

Starlink uses thousands of low-orbit satellites to connect people in remote areas and is now available across Australia.

Mr Thompson struggled for years with various internet modems, data-sharing SIM cards and other WIFI-boosting devices, and was at his wits end before he was introduced to Musk’s internet provider.

“We spent an absolute fortune, up to $2500 a month, to get enough data to run our farming business,” Mr Thompson said.

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson is increasingly incorporating technology into his remote farming operation.(Provided by: Peter Thompson)

The Thompsons installed their own Starlink service in May. They can’t believe the difference it has made.

“Simply put, it’s fantastic,” Mr Thompson said.

“I think everyone has an opinion about Elon Musk the person, but here’s one thing that works really, really well for us.

“Before that we had NBN SkyMuster but the big problem with that was the really big ping speeds.”

Same as the city, finally

A ping speed, or the time it takes for a signal to get to the satellite and back again, is generally around 32 milliseconds.

But Mr Thompson found it was about 700 milliseconds on the NBN service.

phone in the paddock
A farm worker uses his phone on the Thompson property, 80 km from the nearest town.(Provided by: Peter Thompson)

Now their internet connection is as fast as in metropolitan and regional areas.

“We have family and friends in the city that we used to be jealous of because of them [internet connection]but now we are the same as them,” said Mr Thompson.

“Now we have speed and reliability, we can do virtual meetings, emails, video streaming — all those things that people in the city take for granted.”

However, Mr Thompson acknowledges the cost.

“We probably pay twice what someone in the city would pay,” he said.

But he says it’s all about the context for them.

“Compared to what we paid three years ago, and all the systems we had to test and test, I’m very happy to pay $140 a month.”

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The decision to change suppliers

On her family-run grain and cattle property near Glenmorgan, on Queensland’s Western Downs, it’s not the price that holds Wendy Henning back from Starlink, it’s the thought of switching internet providers again.

“Fatigue is probably a good way to put it,” Ms Henning said.

Their internet setup is like a maze, she explains.

The Hennings use NBN SkyMuster for their WIFI, enabled by mobile reception, which, because they are in a reception black spot, comes in the form of a Telstra booster.

Annabelle Henning
Annabelle Henning often has to hotspot internet from her phone data.(Provided by: Wendy Henning)

“That means if the power goes out, which it tends to do, we have no reception and no internet,” she said.

Despite the high price they pay for the complex system, and the poor internet connection it provides – the family has to resort to mobile hotspots when the weather is cloudy or windy – Ms Henning says she is not chasing the latest gadget on the market not .

“After so many years of being sold different solutions as the golden egg of our connectivity problems, I can be a bit cynical,” she said.

Jennifer Medway, who runs the Regional Tech Hub, says Starlink benefits everyone in rural and remote areas, not just those who sign up for it.

“Any competition, or new way of doing business, certainly disrupts the market somewhat, but that’s a good thing,” she said.

“It certainly encourages the other providers to step up their services to keep up, and I think it makes it a lot easier for similar types of satellite companies to come in.”

To attract people to the forest

Back at their Roma home, the Thompson family says a reliable internet connection is about more than just Netflix free of buffering.

Silhouette of cows standing under a large tree in front of a moody sunset
Mr Thompson says good internet can help attract more people to the bush.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

“We’re always looking for ways to attract people to live and work here, and this is a great one,” Mr Thompson said.

His daughter and her husband moved back to the farm during COVID restrictions and now they can both live and work remotely.

“It means one person in a couple can work in agriculture and the other can continue their career from here,” Mr Thompson said.

“So why not come and live in the countryside and have some space and fresh air?

“We can honestly almost say that you will have good connectivity – possibly even better than you have in your small unit in the center of Brisbane or Sydney.”

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