Rocky start to Optus 4G network in Pilbara

Daneka HillNorth West Telegraph
Manager of the sole store in town, Jonna Underwood, points to the newly installed 4G tower on top of the coordinator's office in Parnngurr.
Camera IconManager of the sole store in town, Jonna Underwood, points to the newly installed 4G tower on top of the coordinator's office in Parnngurr. Credit: Supplied

The delivery of 4G coverage to the remote community of Parnngurr has turned into a nightmare for residents after the mismanaged installation of an internet service capable of only basic tasks.

Optus installed the new 4G tower in the Western Desert community in the beginning of August as part of a deal with the WA Government, making it the telco giant’s first foray into the region.

Previously only the most privileged of the community’s 120 residents could access the internet through expensive satellite connections.

Parnngurr council chief executive Ian Underwood said Optus needed to treat people with more respect after contractors “dumped the machine in the office” and asked him to personally deliver parts to another community 1056km away.

Mr Underwood said he had been left frustrated and out of pocket after taking on the responsibility of getting his community online, which Optus had failed to help with in any way.

He has been completing 10-hour trips into the closest town of Newman to buy SIM cards and recharge vouchers in bulk for residents.

“We all feel because we are in the bush, they just give us something to shut us up, and that’s not good enough,” he said.

In addition to the rocky start, those switching to Optus have reported being unable to understand people over the phone and unacceptably slow internet speeds.

An email from Pilbara Community Alcohol and Drug Service case manager Michael Gillespie to Mr Underwood described the Optus system as “completely inadequate for any purpose”.

“As we have gone to considerable expense to connect to the Optus network, which is only used in Parnngurr community, could you please advise when this might be rectified as our client interactions and the judicial process are dependent on it,” Mr Gillespie said.

Optus acknowledged Parnngurr did not have the “most ideal start” to its Optus network service.

“We are committed to delivering exceptional coverage to all our customers and we apologise to those community members affected,” a spokesperson said.

Parnngurr Community School principal Prem Mudhan said having a tower without support was not enough.

“It doesn’t bode well for Optus because these people would like to think that Optus regards them as just another community in Australia,” he said.

Dr Mudhan said frustration was building over simple mistakes such as buying expired SIM cards.

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