by Richard McIntyre
For many, the landline is a thing of the past met with a bit of nostalgia around arguing with your parents over being allowed 5 more minutes or kicking your siblings off the phone so you could use it. But for 64% of respondents to the recent Federated Farmers Rural Connectivity Survey, landlines are something that they still rely on.
Unfortunately, this aging technology is causing headaches and issues for those rural consumers dealing with crackling and other noises on their landline, calls dropping out at random, and frequent struggles to get technicians in to fix it. As many as 20% of respondents rated their landline as poor and 24.8% felt their landline service had declined in the last 12 months.
Not only are they dealing with a poor service, but to retain it costs them a pretty penny. Spark charges $60 a month for a copper landline service, and this is on top of what you would be paying for your internet connection and mobile phone.
Those in rural areas want to retain their landline for a number of reasons. We are normally the last to get our power restored during an outage. Poor mobile coverage is another factor, with 81% of respondents more likely to retain their landline if their best mobile signal strength was 1 bar compared to 62% of those with 2 bars or more. Especially concerning: those who rated their landline service as poor were more likely to indicate that poor connectivity has had an impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, the copper landline is increasingly becoming an antique piece of kit. New parts for the copper network have been difficult to source since 2003 (that is 20 years next year), skilled copper line technicians are beginning to retire, and we are running out of third world countries from which to source spare parts and other components.
What does that mean for our community? Officially, under the copper withdrawal code, Chorus cannot pull out your copper line unless you have fibre connecting to your property. Unofficially, the issue instead seems to be one of finding a provider who will sell you a landline service.
This series is meant to be about ‘helping you improve your connectivity’, not just doom and gloom, so this is what you can do:
Group 1 – Have landline, like landline, landline is still working – this lucky group, right now need to do nothing other than be aware that the infrastructure is aging and to keep in mind the advice for groups 2 and 3.
Group 2 – Having landline issues, want to retain it, can and want to get / have got reliable wireless internet but rubbish mobile coverage. If you are having trouble getting your copper line repaired, your next best option is a Voice Over Internet Protocol service (VOIP). VOIP looks and feels like a landline, for an additional $10 per month on most wireless plans. Unfortunately, it does rely on having power and a reliable internet connection. If you are concerned about being disconnected in an outage, it might be worth looking at getting a battery bank or generator (something we recommend all our members invest in) to help you stay connected so long as the wireless tower is transmitting.
Group 3 – Having landline issues, can’t get wireless, have mobile issues. This is the group that worries us the most and that we think should be a priority for government, Chorus and the telecommunications providers to keep your landline connection working well for as long as possible.
The only alternative we see for this group is for you to sign-up with Starlink for their satellite broadband service. It is an expensive install at around $1000, but the monthly cost after that is similar to wireless broadband while being a lot faster. Starlink doesn’t yet offer a VOIP service, but you should be able to make voice calls with your mobile phone through your home wifi with wifi calling. For this, you will need a smartphone (think: Apple or Samsung), which is an additional purchase (we are now up to around $2000 set-up and we haven’t gotten to your monthly fees and charges yet…). This isn’t going to be affordable for everyone, but it is a solution that should help improve your voice service, if you can afford it.
For those that can’t afford to go the Starlink route, Federated Farmers is going to keep pushing to help those who rely on the copper landline for their connectivity until there is an affordable solution available for you.