NBN, Telstra help bushfire relief effort with free satellite internet, phone calls

Max Blenkin

NBN Co and Telstra are assisting the bushfire relief effort through the provision of satellite internet services and free phone calls.

NBN, Telstra help bushfire relief effort with free satellite internet, phone calls
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“We understand the importance of internet connectivity for local communities at this time,” NBN Co said in a post on its Facebook page.

“We have now installed Sky Muster satellite dishes at 12 evacuation centres in NSW and VIC which are currently offering free Wi-Fi.”

Earlier, NBN Coalition dispatched one of its Road Muster mobile satellite communications trucks to a bushfire evacuation centre at Batemans Bay on the NSW south coast, providing free wi-fi and device charging.

Telstra has also ramped up measures for temporary connectivity efforts in the wake of the bushfires, opening its payphones nationally to free calls and use of the Telstra Air Wi-Fi network.

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“From Monday, 6 January until further notice, we’re making our payphone network around the country available to provide free local, national and standard mobile calls,” Telstra chief executive Andy Penn said in a blog post.

“We will also be allowing free use of the Telstra Air Wi-Fi network at locations where payphones are equipped to provide this.

“As part of our existing disaster assistance packages for Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, we are already providing free calling on our payphones and free use of our Telstra Air network.

“However, given the scale of the emergency we’ve made the decision to extend this across the country allowing all Australians to keep in touch with family and friends.”

Bushfires have damaged and destroyed infrastructure in many areas, cutting power and knocking out phone lines.

Penn said Telstra teams were continuing to work around the clock with emergency services to access infrastructure in order to get services back online.

“However, as I have said previously, this may take time given a lot of these areas are still inaccessible,” he said.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher praised the work of the telecommunications companies.

“Our telecommunications operators are working to fix network outages as soon and safely as possible,” he said.

“I commend the network operators’ efforts in responding, which has included deploying temporary facilities to restore communications services for impacted communities, particularly those that are isolated.

“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. The current fire situations across Australia have made access difficult and unsafe at some sites to assess and restore services.

“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.”

Fletcher said Telstra had also deployed a satellite cell on wheels in Mallacoota and a cell on wheels to Corryong in Victoria to support emergency services operational communications.

He also said Telstra had set up charging stations and hotspots and “distributed prepaid SIM cards at a number of evacuation centres across NSW and Victoria”.

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