Farmers on the rising importance of rural internet services

Mal Peters said fast and reliable internet is becoming increasingly important for farmers.
Mal Peters said fast and reliable internet is becoming increasingly important for farmers.

As the National Broadband Network (NBN) finally looms for Inverell residents, the district’s farmers are faced with a growing number of telecommunication possibilities.

Over 5000 local homes and businesses are expected to be connected via either fibre to the curb or fibre to the node from next February, with service plans available from September-November 2018.

Meanwhile farmers struggle to decide between remaining with the increasingly outdated copper network, joining the sometimes overcrowded NBN Sky Muster satellite service or whether to brave it on an expensive mobile data plan. 

“It’s a critical part of being a profitable farmer today, is keeping yourself ahead on technology,” Mal Peters said.

Living between Wallangra and Ashford, Mr Peters is a former NSW Farmers Federation president and remains passionate about rural telecommunications. He feels the country has become a secondary issue for Telstra after its privatisation.

After trying copper and a satellite service, Mr Peters has a wireless service with Telstra. He uses the internet for weather reports, cattle marketing and to find agronomic and breeding information.

Paying approximately $500 a month, he said “You pay through the neck in the bush”.

An NBN Sky Muster satellite customer, Yetman’s Terry Taylor is thrilled to access unlimited information from the comfort of his farm.

“It wouldn’t matter where you were in Australia, if you’re on Sky Muster satellite, you will get the same services I’m getting here, and that’s fantastic,” he said.

Mr Taylor uses the service to pay bills, order essential equipment and look up ‘how to’ videos on Youtube.

“I’m 80 years old, and I couldn’t do what I do now without the internet.”

Mr Taylor said there were downsides to the satellite, which slows down during customers’ peak times – sometimes becoming unusable on weekends.

Keen for more data and a less clogged system, Mr Taylor has high hopes for the NBN’s second satellite Sky Muster II. From October, the NBN wholesaler have promised to increase data limits for current customers. 

Mr Peters remains sceptical of the finite service and said he doubted satellite was the answer.

“Why should we be relying on satellite? Surely you would have thought we’d be able to get decent landlines and would have been able to afford the best system at the best price,” he said.

“Satellite’s not going to be the answer, because inevitably satellite’s going to choke. It’s not very satisfactory.”

Instead he hopes that with more infrastructure, the wireless network will continue to improve.