SEEKING CONNECTION: Ken Rubeli trying to run his business from a stump. He has no mobile reception at home, and has been without a landline for nearly three weeks.
THE Bandon Grove area at the foothills of the Barrington Tops promises a picturesque, idyllic escape for those who want to switch off.But for the residents whose livelihoods depend on visitors, a bit of connectivity would go a long way.
Thursday will mark three weeks since Ken Rubeli’s landline phones, both business and personal, worked. His home at Wangat Lodge, about 20 minutes from Dungog, is outside the mobile phone coverage area, sohe has been without a working phone since February 9.He can get some mobile reception, if he walks 50 metres into his field and sets himself up in his “paddock office” on his “ergonomic tree stump”.
“I rely on landlines for my business, as I have done for nearly 30 years,” Mr Rubeli said.“I am a 70-year-old man living on my own most of the time. It is also my connection with friends and family.”
After reporting the fault to Telstra on February 9, Mr Rubeli was told it would be fixed by February 14. That was extended to February 23. Then, March 2.
Mr Rubeli said the disruption to his accommodation business was only made worse by a “corporate culture” that showed little concern for the realities of customers in rural areas, where mobile reception was patchy or non-existent.
“People often tend to forget about the landline and use the mobile, but out here the mobile doesn’t work … and Telstra doesn’t care;we are a tiny portion of the Telstra Network.
“There’s a prioritising, I think, and we end up at the absolute bottom of the heap.”
Fortunately, he did have access to email.
A frustrated Mr Rubeli lodged a complaint with Telstra on February 15, but did not receive a response, despite several emails requesting an update.
“I did get my Telstra bill in the mail,” he said.
He then lodged a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on February 24.
Telstra did attemptto contact Mr Rubeli on his mobile phone on Monday night but, due to the lack of mobile coverage, he was unaware of the call until he returned to his tree stump on Tuesday. The timeline for the repair had not changed.
Mr Rubeli said he depended on the network for his business.
“My Telstra phone service is invaluable to my business, but I feel like I’m of no value to Telstra as a customer,” he said.
“My neighbour says ‘we need to go for the jugular’,” Mr Rubeli said.“But Telstra doesn’t have a jugular. It has carefully covered up its throbbing heart with voice robots and multi-digit report numbers. And if you do ever find a blood vessel there’s no pulse, no feeling at all.”
A Telstra spokesperson said late on Tuesday that the issue had the potential to impact up to six customers.
“We wish to apologise for the interruption to some ADSL and fixed line services in the area,” the spokesperson said.
“We are working to restore the issue as quickly as possible.”