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Lights out in NPARC communities last night. No cash to splash thanks to inadequate Telstra phone cabling

Paradise takes on an ugly face

from our northern correspondent

A broken communications trunk cable near Coen in central Cape York Peninsula has caused chaos in northern communities preventing any eftpos transactions or telephone communication since Sunday morning.

Locals who contacted a Cairns communications company by satellite phone on Monday were warned residents could be facing a telephone and data blackout until Wednesday, however service was restored late on Monday night.

Bulldozer laying Telstra’s fragile fibre optic cable. A single cable linking Far Northern communities to the rest of the world was cut by earthmoving machinery causing chaos in communities.

It is understood road earthworks machinery severed Telstra’s fibre optic cable north of Coen.

The outage has demonstrated how dependent isolated Cape York communities and stations are on landline communications and how vulnerable Cape York would be in a major emergency.

Businesses have been severely impacted in the middle of an extremely busy tourist season leaving some visitors stranded unable to use eftpos cards or withdraw cash to pay for fuel, accommodation or provisions.

A single, fragile, fibre optic cable connecting the Far North to southern networks laid by Telstra more than seven years ago is all that keeps townships such as Weipa and all aboriginal communities functioning.

Expecting a longer outage, Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council, based in Bamaga, took the extraordinary step of allowing $200 credit for each of its employees at a local supermarket because there were no operating teller machines to withdraw cash.

NPARC communities have a pre-paid electricity card system operated by Ergon Energy which has to be topped up by debit or credit cards for a home to access Ergon’s local grid.

Homes went without electricity as residents usually cannot afford to outlay more than $50 for power at one time which generally lasts less than a week.

One local beach-front tourist resort has lost tens of thousands of dollars since its eftpos data line broke down more than a month ago in an unrelated failure.

Telstra refuses to take any responsibility according to the proprietor who does not wish to be named in fear of being further ostracised by the telco.

“Telstra is sacking thousands of its experienced employees so what will happen when the lines go out in future?” another worried businessman asked.

Telstra CEO Andrew Penn has dodged a bullet because he cannot be contacted by telephone for comment.

The ‘bush telegraph’ has been lamenting the loss of high frequency two-way radio sets allocated by the Royal Flying Doctor Service decades ago which kept the Peninsula in touch with the outside world especially in times of emergency.

These invaluable radios were recalled by the RFDS 10 years ago and replaced by mobile and landline telephones.

So much for the new communications era.