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Byron Shire
June 26, 2024

Byron’s buffering: our long wait for bandwidth

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Are-you-still-bufferingPaul Bibby

You’re indulging your latest NetFlix addiction, or downloading an important whale song interpretation app, when suddenly the internet slows to a crawl.

You sit and stare, blood-pressure rising, as the page reloads at the speed glaciers used to travel at before we ‘streamlined’ them with climate change.

Eventually you give up and return to such 19th-century practices as book reading and face-to-face conversation.

It’s a classic first world problem of course, but spare a thought for those whose livelihood depends on being connected.

Web-based businesses are spawning like mushrooms across the region as locals figure out creative ways to earn a gluten-free crust in the region’s undernourished job market.

Yet their hard work is being hampered by the lack of fast, reliable internet, and the National Broadband Network (NBN) is far from a safe bet to solve the problems.

The digital divide

Andrew Fisher, the owner of Byron-based internet marketing company 50Acres, said local internet access was ‘woefully short of the mark’ for those working online.

‘It’s actually a bit embarrassing when you’re dealing with a client overseas and your Skype connection keeps dropping out,’ Mr Fisher says.

‘We’ve found that it’s more reliable to use our mobile networks rather than rely on the ADSL connections, particularly at certain times of the day.’

He said the lack of decent internet was holding back Byron’s potential to become a hub for e-businesses.

‘There are a lot of startups here now and I think it’s a big positive for Byron Shire because they’re creating jobs, and they’re also a bit more sustainable than the tourism and hospitality industries in terms of the impact on our infrastructure.

‘But it [the lack of reliable internet] is slowing things down.’

And it’s not just web marketing and design companies in town that are being held back.

Dozens of small businesses selling everything from candles to coffee beans conduct the majority of their trade online, often from the hinterland where internet is about as reliable as a canola-powered helicopter.

Unreliable

The director of Next Wave Communications, Matthew Adan, said many local businesses that used webpages designed by his company battled with unreliable internet on a regular basis.

‘If you’re running [a business] from home and you’ve got a couple of kids on devices it can be a nightmare,’ he said.

‘When you’re in the back end of your website trying to update your products and it’s just dropping out it makes life very difficult.

‘It’s ridiculous to think that we still don’t have decent internet in this country. This should have been sorted out by now.’

Uploading videos a challenge

A common theme among the internet-related issues for local businesses is the difficulty of uploading video – the mother’s milk of communication in the digital age.

Lau Guerreiro from local web design company MindProducts said he’d had to tell one of his clients he couldn’t do their video editing.

‘At the moment, I can’t do it for him because it would take days to download that raw video, and even longer to re-uploaded the edited video.

‘I’m currently getting 9Mbps download and only 0.9Mbps upload. It was only 0.3 until about a year ago.’

Towns years away 

Byron is, of course, about to become the latest recipient of that exciting digital revolution known as the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Well parts of the shire anyway.

While the new network goes online in Suffolk Park this week and in Byron Bay in December, other towns and suburbs are still years away.

Most people will have to wait until at least the middle of next year to get hooked up and others, such as the residents of Main Arm and Federal, won’t be enjoying high-speed internet until 2019.

And of course there’s no guarantee that any of us will be getting what we’ve paid for.

The frailties of the NBN’s FTTN (fibre to the node) connections have been well documented, particularly the network’s failure to deliver anything approaching high speed.

The company responsible for rolling out the NBN says that of the 12,300 premises that access the new network, 10,600 are expected to receive fibre to the node.

A couple of hundred will enjoy a faster and more reliable fibre to the premises service and 1,700 will receive fibre to the curb [kurb], a method that is little different from FTTN in practical terms.

Fixed wireless towers for rural

The rest, particularly those out of town, will rely on fixed wireless – connecting to broadband via an NBN tower within a one-kilometre radius.

A number of areas have already been connected to this service, with mixed results.

The fixed wireless tower on Manse Rd, Myocum, has had multiple complaints and is apparently overloaded with too many users, though there has been talk of an upgrade.

Others say their connection is reasonable but not spectacular.

‘You wouldn’t want to do any heavy lifting,’ says Andrew Fisher of the fixed wireless connection at his home in Coorabell.

‘You can stream a movie pretty comfortably but that’s about it.’

Philosophical

Patrick Gray, who produces a cyber-security podcast from his home in Sunrise is philosophical about the prospect of the NBN.

‘Hopefully it will be addressing some of these issues,’ he says.

‘But if you’re a web developer you just have to find a way. You can find okay broadband, but you have to look for it – it’s part of living and working in Byron Bay.’


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1 COMMENT

  1. Your story – like almost everyone – have underlooked or forgotten those who are beyond fixed wireless lines of sight, so abandoned to the skymuster satellites, baaaa..
    Apparently these drop out when masked by cloud – which you may notice is quite common especially in the hills, beyond lines of sight or wireless.
    Bah?

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