THE devastating storms that hit Victoria in June have left Walkerville residents intermittently without phone service.
Some residents have been without phone service for eight weeks.
Others only had two weeks of problems post-storm, but with ongoing issues.
Tracy Lehman lives in Walkerville and has never experienced service outages like it before.
“We usually have average service, but nothing that has been this bad for this long,” Ms Lehman said.
“It breaks my heart to see my son in year 12 have to try study without internet. We’ve been offered an internet dongle by Telstra and his school, but we don’t have service or internet, so a dongle doesn’t work at all,” she said.
Telstra’s acting regional general manager, Garry Austin, said that like a lot of areas in Victoria, the connectivity issues in Walkerville are complex and there is no simple solution.
“While there is 3G and 4G coverage in Walkerville, there is a lack of depth of coverage because the area is served by a number of different, surrounding sites,” Mr Austin said.
“In the short to medium term, we’re working through plans to augment our site at Sandy Point to increase capacity and coverage to Walkerville. We’ll ensure we keep the community informed if this work proceeds,” he said.
Telstra has no immediate plans to build a site at Walkerville and is looking at how it can improve services in the area, and any decisions will be subject to future funding consideration and the input of residents and local council will be considered.
Many Walkerville residents have been working from home or remote learning – all of which have barely any mobile service or internet.
“One of my neighbours is having such bad internet issues that she called me crying with her kids on Walkerville Beach in the rain and wind trying to get service on their iPad for remote learning,” Ms Lehman said.
Walkerville is considered a black spot due to the poor telecommunications infrastructure, however, the federal government Mobile Black Spot Program offers an opportunity for residents to apply for improved mobile coverage.
The program is supported by co-contributors from state and local governments, businesses, local communities and mobile network operators, including Optus, Telstra, TPG Telecom Ltd and Field Solution Group.
A new funding round could be on the table soon.
Locals are struggling with the below-average mobile service which is making their day-to-day lives hard.
“I’m not trying to be dramatic about it, but it’s been pretty bloody awful. Telstra has offered me no solutions. The most frustrating part is that Telstra sends us to their site to get an estimate as to when it will come back on, but it says Walkerville has not been impacted by any outages,” Ms Lehman said.
However, Mr Austin said a planned site to improve the region’s connectivity was declined by the community.
“A site we had planned to build at Waratah Bay as part of the Mobile Black Spot Program would’ve alleviated some of the capacity and coverage constraints in Walkerville, but, disappointingly, it didn’t go ahead because of the feedback of local residents, so we need to ensure the community is on board with any future plans.”
Ms Lehman said the mobile service had been on and off intermittently with two weeks of no phone line, internet, or power in June. The power and phone line came on after one week, but the internet has been hit and miss.
“It’s been out since July 28 with no mobile reception. We’re lucky if we get one bar of 3G service,” Ms Lehman said.
Walkerville Ratepayers and Residents Association member and telecommunications engineer Dr Peter Gerrand said Walkerville is in a terrible situation, but the Mobile Black Spot Program may help.
“The Black Spot Program pays subsidies to telecommunication services, but we’re at a disadvantage and while it will soothe the issue for now, we may ultimately lose money,” Dr Gerrand said.
“If Telstra fixes the issue, then people with other providers won’t be covered because the telecommunication providers can’t fix individual problems,” he said.
South Gippsland Shire Council said it is not aware of any ongoing issues relating to the power supply in Walkerville.
“Council should be helping Walkerville and we should be campaigning together for change,” Dr Gerrand said.