Bushfires have damaged rural network infrastructure knocking communities offline during a deadly bushfire season.
Thousands of homes have been destroyed, and at least 20 people have died from fires that have raged across the country.
For evacuees and people remaining in their communities, access to the internet, mobile phone coverage, and TV and radio is crucial for staying informed about the fires and keeping in touch with loved ones.
Communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said repairing networks was a high prioritiy.
“Our telecommunications operators are working to fix network outages as soon and safely as possible,” Fletcher said.
“Many of the outages are due to power supplies being cut off, and in some cases are the direct impact of fire on network infrastructure.
“As and when it is safe for technicians to access infrastructure sites, restoration work is getting underway. The extent of fire impact to power and communications infrastructure in some regions means work to repair and rebuild will be ongoing.”
Communications infrastructure such as towers have been damaged by fires. Image: Telstra
Although apps and web pages give access to regularly updated details about bushfire locations and warnings, emergency services recommend that people should not rely on single sources of information about fires.
The ABC and local radio stations have been keeping people informed, with the national broadcaster installing a temporary radio transmitter in Batemans Bay after its transmission tower was destroyed.
Free wi-fi during evacuation
A mass evacuation of NSW’s South Coast and parts of Victoria was triggered over the weekend ahead of horror weather conditions.
Evacuation centres were set up in safer areas for the thousands who chose to leave their properties.
NBN and Telstra both worked to provide internet access to these sites with mobile satellite trucks, fixed satellite dishes, charging stations, and by giving out pre-paid sim cards.
We understand the importance of internet connectivity for local communities at this time. We have now installed Sky Muster satellite dishes at 12 evacuation centres in NSW and VIC which are offering free wifi. Additional services will be installed at five new locations tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/jybCkWV22N— nbn™ Australia (@NBN_Australia) January 5, 2020
Telstra then announced on Sunday that it would allow free use of its payphones to make calls and access wi-fi nationwide.
CEO Andrew Penn said the use of free services would help people keep in touch with family and friends until networks are repaired.
“Our teams are continuing to work around the clock with emergency services to access infrastructure in order to get services back online,” Penn said.
“This may take time given a lot of these areas are still inaccessible."
Meanwhile, Optus has agreed to waive mobile phone bills for volunteer firefighters.
“When our communities are facing such difficult circumstances, we all seek to provide whatever support we can for our volunteer firefighters who are placing themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of Australians,” said Optus Deputy CEO, Kelly Bayer-Rosmarin.
“Waiving the bills of volunteer firefighters is our small way of saying thanks.”