Elon Musk’s internet is proving to be an unlikely savior for rural Australians suffering from connectivity ‘fatigue’

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

While Twitter users around the world boycotted the billionaire, who controversially bought the social platform before promptly firing more than 3,000 employees and reinstating Donald Trump’s membership, rural Australians weren’t so quick to push back. Musk’s products.

The reason: Its Internet service works where competing services don’t.

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

After years of battling with multiple internet modems, data-sharing SIM cards, and other WIFI-boosting gadgets, Mr. Thompson was on edge before being introduced to Musk’s internet provider.

“We used to spend an absolute fortune, up to $2500 a month, to get enough data to run our agricultural business,” Thompson said.

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson is increasingly incorporating technology into his remote farming business.(Provided: Peter Thompson)

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

“Put it simply, it’s pretty damn awesome,” Thompson said.

“I think everyone has an opinion about Elon Musk as a person, but here’s one thing that works really, really well for us.

“Before this, we had NBN SkyMuster, but the big problem was the blazing ping speeds.”

The same as the city, finally

A ping rate, or the time it takes for a signal to get to the satellite and back, is usually around 32 milliseconds.

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

telephone in the paddock
A farmer uses his phone on Thompson’s property, 80km from the nearest town.(Provided: Peter Thompson)

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

“We have family and friends in town that we were jealous of because of them [internet connection]but now we’re like them,” Thompson said.

“Now we have speed and reliability, we can do virtual meetings, email, stream video – all those things that people in the city take for granted.”

Mr. Thompson, however, acknowledges the cost.

“We’re probably paying double what someone would pay in the city,” he said.

But he says that, for them, it all depends on the context.

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

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The decision to switch providers

At her family-owned grain and cattle estate near Glenmorgan in Queensland’s Western Downs, it’s not the price that keeps Wendy Henning from Starlink, it’s the thought of switching internet providers again.

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

Their internet setup is like a maze, he explains.

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

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

“It means if the power goes out, which it tends to do, we have no reception and no internet,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“It definitely encourages other providers to step up their services to keep up, and I think it makes it much easier for similar types of satellite companies to get on board.”

Attracting people to the bush

Back in their Roma home, the Thompson family say that a reliable internet connection is more than just Netflix without buffering.

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

“We’re always looking for ways to attract people to live and work here, and that’s great,” said Thompson.

Her daughter and husband have retired to the farm during the COVID lockdowns and are now both able to stay and work remotely.

“It means that one person in a pair can work in agriculture and the other can continue their career from here,” 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 will have good connectivity, maybe even better than what you have in your small unit in the middle of Brisbane or Sydney.”