Elon Musk’s internet proves an unlikely savior for rural Australians suffering connectivity ‘fatigue’

From his cattle farm six hours west of Brisbane, Peter Thompson laughs at the idea of ​​replacing his work ute with a Tesla, but he is happy to pay $140 each month into Elon Musk’s back pocket.

While Twitter users across the globe have boycotted the billionaire, who controversially bought the social platform before promptly sacking more than 3,000 staff and re-instating Donald Trump’s membership, rural Australians haven’t been as quick to knock Musk’s products.

The reason: His internet service works where competitors’ services don’t.

Starlink uses thousands of low-orbit satellites to connect people in remote areas and is now available Australia-wide.

Having battled for years with multiple internet modems, data-sharing SIM cards and other WIFI-boosting gadgets, Mr. Thompson was at his wit’s end before he was introduced to Musk’s internet provider.

“We used to spend an absolute fortune, up to $2500 per month, to get enough data to operate our farming business,” Mr. Thompson said.

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson is increasingly incorporating technology into his remote farming operation.(Supplied: Peter Thompson)

The Thompsons installed their own Starlink service in May. They can’t believe the difference it has made.

“Put simply, it’s bloody fantastic,” Mr. Thompson said.

“I think everyone has an opinion on Elon Musk the person, but here is a thing that works really, really well for us.

“Before this, we had NBN SkyMuster, but the big issue with that was the very big ping speeds.”

The same as the city, finally

A ping speed, or the time it takes for a signal to get to the satellite and back again, is generally about 32 milliseconds.

But Mr. Thompson was finding it was about 700 milliseconds on the NBN service.

phone in paddock:
A farm worker uses his phone on the Thompson property, 80 km from the nearest town.(Supplied: Peter Thompson)

Now, their internet connection is as fast as in metropolitan and regional areas.

“We’ve got family and friends in the city that we used to be jealous of because of them [internet connection]but now we’re the same as them,” Mr. Thompson said.

“Now we have speed and reliability, we can do virtual meetings, emails, video streaming — all those things people in town take for granted.”

Mr. Thompson does, however, acknowledge the cost.

“We probably pay twice what someone would pay in the city,” he said.

But he says that, for them, it’s all about the context.

“Compared to what we were paying three years ago, and all the systems we had to trial and test, I’m quite happy to pay $140 a month.”

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The decision to change providers

On her family-run grain and cattle property near Glenmorgan, on Queensland’s Western Downs, it’s not the price holding Wendy Henning back from Starlink, it’s the thought of changing internet providers again.

“Fatigue is probably a good way to put it,” Ms. Henning said.

Their internet setup is like a maze, she explains.

The Hennings use NBN SkyMuster for their WIFI, enabled through mobile reception, which, because they are in a reception black spot, comes in the form of a Telstra booster.

Annabelle Henning
Annabelle Henning regularly has to hotspot internet from her phone data.(Supplied: Wendy Henning)

“It means if the power goes out, which it tends to do, we’ve got no reception and no internet,” she said.

Despite the high price they pay for the complex system, and the poor internet connectivity it provides – the family has to resort to mobile hotspots when the weather is cloudy or windy – Ms Henning says she isn’t rushing towards the newest gadget on the market .

“After so many years of different solutions being sold to us as the golden egg of our connection problems, I could be a bit cynical,” she said.

Jennifer Medway, who manages the Regional Tech Hub, says Starlink benefits everyone in rural and remote areas, not just those who sign up for it.

“Any competition, or new way of doing business, certainly disrupts the market somewhat, but that’s a good thing,” she said.

“It certainly encourages the other providers to step up their services to keep up, and I think it does make it a lot easier for similar types of satellite companies to come in.”

Attracting people to the bush

Back at their Roma home, the Thompson family says a reliable internet connection is about more than just Netflix free from buffering.

Silhouette of cows standing under a large tree in front of a wispy sunset
Mr Thompson says good internet can help attract more people to the bush.(ABC News. Matt Roberts)

“We are always looking for ways to attract people to live and work out here, and this is a great one,” Mr. Thompson said.

His daughter and her husband retreated to the farm during the COVID lockdowns and now they can both stay and work remotely.

“It means one person in a couple can work in agriculture and the other can continue their career from here,” Mr. Thompson said.

“So why not come and live in the country and have some space and fresh air?

“We can honestly almost say that you’ll have good connectivity — possibly even better than what you’ve got in your little unit in the middle of Brisbane or Sydney.”