What happens to our phones in a blackout?
WHAT seemed like a simple question to be answered - what happens to our landline when there is a blackout - has revealed a surprising outcome.
Australia is gradually receiving NBN into their homes. This means the copper wire technology of the past is disappearing. Our home phones are plugged into the NBN supplied connection and into the power. Simple? Well, mostly. But when the summer storms and bushfires arrive, it gets complicated.
NBN spokesperson Craig Jost advises, "The NBN access network won't work during a power outage".
"This is because the NBN access network requires power at both the exchange and within the home or business to operate. While the NBN network has in-built power resiliency in parts, it's not within NBN Co's control to guarantee power at both ends of the network at all times - including within the millions of homes and businesses across Australia."
Mr Jost adds that power outages can last longer than battery life. Now here's where it gets really interesting.
"That is why we recommend having a charged mobile phone to provide an additional option for connectivity for people who rely on unmonitored medical alarms," Mr Jost states. In fact, surely with or without a medical alarm, these words of advice apply to every Australian.
The spokesperson for the Department of Communications and the Arts reiterates this advice. "It is strongly recommended that people do not rely on a single form of communications technology during an outage or emergency," it states. "Consumers with mobile network coverage in their area should consider having a charged mobile phone on hand for emergencies and may also maintain a fully-charged power bank which can be used to recharge a mobile device if power is unavailable."
For those older Australians on the Aged Pension, every dollar is important. Adding the burden of a mobile phone to the cost of living then becomes a challenge.
Casino resident and Aged Pension recipient Tony Clinton, 67, has found a way to deal with the conundrum. He has no-cost landline for incoming calls and outgoing calls to emergency services only, and a basic pre-paid mobile which he adds a credit of about $20 every two to three weeks. "It's a lot cheaper for me to have a pre-paid mobile and not have a bill coming in every month or so," Tony said. With only $39 every fortnight left from his Aged Pension for Tony to live on, "it's the only way I can live is to cut down on bills coming in".
Tony has learnt to keep his mobile fully charged and beside him all the time in case he can't reach the landline. And luckily for him, when he needs to go online, he heads to his local Centrelink office which is near his home.
A Department of Social Services spokesperson says the Federal Government is providing Age Pension recipients with a pension supplement which is a combined pharmaceutical allowance, utilities allowance, GST supplement and telephone allowance. You can get the telephone allowance if you have a landline or a mobile.
Joel Pringle of the Benevolent Society's Fix Pension Poverty campaign says this supplement is "wholly inadequate" as costs continue to rise, but the pension does not. He drew attention to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2018 report which highlights that the cost of digital inclusion continues to increase faster than the increase in household income resulting in the gap between low income and high income households widening,
How does it work?
Can we safely assume every senior knows how to use a mobile phone, particularly when there is an emergency? Cleary not. That's why there are technology support services for seniors. Telstra offers its Tech Savvy Seniors program plus in-store support for any senior needing to be taught how to turn the mobile on, use it and check for battery charge. Both Vodafone and Optus offer in-store support and workshops tailored for seniors.
All three of these phone service providers say they have available mobiles which can assist people with vision impairment, dexterity issues and hearing.
The providers also offer varying purchase and ongoing maintenance deals. A good chat to an in-store staff member who can point out the advantages behind each deal, such as a recharge lasting for up to 365 days and 10 per cent discount for senior card holders, is well worthwhile.
Telstra's hardship offers however don't extend to mobiles.
Can't get a mobile signal
The Department of Communications advises that in NBN fixed wireless and satellite areas the copper network will be maintained.
"The government has also committed $220 million through the Mobile Black Spot Program to invest in mobile infrastructure and extend new and improved mobile coverage," the department spokesperson adds.