Living on Lord Howe Island


Could you live without the internet?

Posted by Dani Rourke – Monday, May 06, 2013

 Imagine seeing this every day!

I love the internet – how did we ever live without it? No piece of information is too unimportant or too obscure to find. I spend hours on YouTube and reading blogs. Yes, you guessed it, mummy blogs. And it’s pretty amazing to be able to order books, clothes, vacuum cleaner bags or even a taxi or a holiday without leaving my desk. I wouldn’t describe myself as addicted to the internet – our internet speed at Lord Howe is a bit slow for that and I’ve never invented a virtual life for myself or done anything with Twitter or Instagram – but I’m amazed and thankful that we have it and I wouldn’t want to live without it.

So imagine my horror last week when our ISP, Reachnet, sent us one month’s notice of termination. Reachnet is pulling out of Lord Howe and dumping its 69 customers. It isn’t economically viable anymore. The service will finish on 31 May 2013.

Big deal, I hear you say, just sign up with another ISP. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. There are three ISPs operating at Lord Howe at present, Reachnet, Activ8 and Clear Networks, the Australian Broadband Guarantee provider. Activ8 isn’t accepting any more customers. Clear Networks can’t pull out, but it isn’t exactly winning awards either.

We have a Clear Networks service at Pinetrees (as well as a Reachnet service). Clear Networks drops out frequently, sometimes for 3 or 4 days at a time. Once someone backed a truck into the tower at the southern end of the island, it fell over and the internet didn’t work for 10 days. The speed is so slow that it’s difficult to complete basic tasks. Two bank transfers can take half an hour. It is sometimes quicker just to print out a document and hand deliver it to the intended recipient than to try to attach the document to an email and send it. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy investigated our complaints about the service and even produced a report, but unfortunately the service has not improved.

At Lord Howe, we still think of the fax machine as a useful and convenient piece of equipment. We have to train new staff members to use it, since many of them were born in the 90s and have never seen a fax machine outside re-runs of Friends. Actually, and this is going to make me sound even older, it isn’t just fax machines that are obsolete for young people. One of our guests told me that she had a 25 year old computer programmer working for her. One day she asked him to post something and he came in with the envelope and asked her where to put the stamp – true story!

One alternative to our current internet service is the NBN’s interim satellite service (ISS). Reachnet had been in discussions with the NBN Co and Optus to conduct a trial at Lord Howe using the Optus satellite. The Lord Howe school has an Optus internet service and it’s supposed to be fantastic. They even have video conferencing facilities. But, of course, apart from the school, Optus isn’t accepting Lord Howe customers either. It appears that something has gone wrong, and the Reachnet letter says that the NBN Co could not commit to a start date for the ISS and “cannot assist in the short term”. We will just have to wait until the ISS satellite is ready in 2015 or 2016. Fancy running a business for two years without the internet?

We would like the NBN Co to go ahead with a trial of the ISS on Lord Howe as soon as possible. We would also like Reachnet to continue to provide services to Lord Howe customers until the ISS is operating. If the Optus satellite does not have enough capacity (which is possible) we would like the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to authorise the NBN Co to buy more capacity from our current satellite (GE23). In the future, we may have a mobile phone tower on the island, which would give us much cheaper and more reliable internet. But we love our mobile-free life and I don’t think that Lord Howe is quite ready to join the rat race – do you?

So – this is where I ask for your help… and it would be a BIG favour. Could you please follow this up for me on Facebook, Twitter and by email? Simply ask:

What are the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the NBN Co doing to ensure that Reachnet customers on Lord Howe continue to have internet access after 31 May 2013?

Can the NBN Co arrange a trial of the ISS on Lord Howe to begin as soon as possible?

Can DBCDE please ensure that Reachnet continues to provide services at Lord Howe until the ISS is working?

Could you do that for me please? Feel free to add colourful language.

Facebook posts

Put a FB post on Senator Stephen Conroy’s page (just cut and paste the words above):

And one on the National Broadband Network page:


Send a tweet to Malcolm Turnbull and Julia Gillard, using the #NBN hashtag. (It’s taken me half the night to work out how, but I’ve done it).


Send emails to some or all of the following:

  • Senator Stephen Conroy (ALP), Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy:
  • Tanya Plibersek (ALP), Federal member for Sydney (which includes Lord Howe):
  • Malcolm Turnbull (LIB), Shadow Minister for Communications:
  • Julia Gillard (ALP), Prime Minister:
  • Senator Simon Birmingham (LIB), member of Joint Committee on NBN: submit form via
  • Luke Hartsuyker (LIB) Shadow Minister for Regional Communications:
  • Senator Doug Cameron (ALP) head of Senate Committee on Broadband and member of Joint Committee on the NBN: submit form via
  • Senator Fiona Nash (LIB): submit form via

Many thanks for your help and support. If you wish to keep reading this blog after 31 May 2013, you may need to get your fax machine out of the garage and send me your fax number.

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About Dani Rourke

HELP! I have 2 children, 25 staff and up to 75 guests. I was a lawyer for 10 years, but escaped. My husband and I moved from Sydney to beautiful Lord Howe Island to run Pinetrees Lodge, which has been in my family for 6 generations. I'm writing about family business, island life and the whole work/family disaster. Did someone say balance? When I'm not writing, my lovely staff do it for me - they see more of the island than I do.

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