FRUSTRATED: The NBN rollout in Bellingen has created a digital divide.
FRUSTRATED: The NBN rollout in Bellingen has created a digital divide. Trevor Veale

Bello's digital divide borders on the ludicrous

THE NBN rollout in Bellingen is creating a digital divide and for some, it borders on the ludicrous.

The NBNco has drawn a line through town with residents on one side struggling on an overworked fixed wireless network and the rest to receive FTTC (Fibre to the Curb) which is expected to be rolled out in January next year.

With the wireless network relying on line of sight (or 'near line of sight' as NBN are now advising) to the tower at Scotchman's Hill, residents are experiencing vastly different speeds. This can be further impacted by weather conditions.

Mother and businesswoman Amelia Franklin says the unreliable signal to her business and to her home lead to frequent 'rage quits'.

"My son will rage quit in frustration - it's a great way to keep kids of the internet - but it's not good when I rage quit and it's actually for work,” she laughed.

But it's clearly no laughing matter for the many residents who operate businesses from their homes like Jason Errey who has opted to stay on the existing ADSL network. He says that in many cases the fixed wireless service in Bellingen is unusable.

"Some are experiencing speeds of as low as 2.5 mbps (Megabits per second) at night which is unuseable - you may as well be on a dial up modem from the 1980s,” he said.

"The tower can't cope now, what's going to happen in 2020 when Telstra has no obligation to provide copper.”

Mr Errey's engineering business has won multiple awards including the 2018 consulting engineers award from Engineering Australia and a Working with Nature award from PIANC in Brussels (the first award of its kind in Australia).

As Bellingen mayor Dominic King points out, the town has attracted a lot of innovative new businesses in recent years.

"When I go to conferences I always hear about how we need to develop smart communities and the need to bring new industries and new jobs to regional areas but we just don't have the same speeds - we should be treated equally. What you also hear a lot is that fast internet doesn't mean a business will thrive but poor internet will mean a business struggles.”

In an open letter to frustrated Bellingen residents in October last year, Amber Dornbusch, head of NSW/ACT NBN, stated it was their job to provide access to peak wholesale download rates (and proportional upload rates) of at least 25mbps to all premises 'within the finite funding available - as directed to us by government policy.'

Labor candidate for Cowper Andrew Woodward is using Bellingen as: "a case study in the NBN gone mad” and has invited the Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland to see for herself when she comes to the region in November.