Bronwyn Mitchell with her unreliable Optus modem

Bronwyn Mitchell isn’t asking for much – just the sort of reliable internet service that most of us take for granted.

Despite that she’s endured four months of unreliable internet service from Optus, during which she’s struggled with repeated intermittent faults, equipment failures, frustrating delays and thoroughly bad customer service.

Her internet problems are made worse by the fact that she is profoundly deaf and relies on the National Relay Service and TTY, a text captioned telephone service, to use the phone.

That’s made it virtually impossible for her to carry out over-the-phone instructions from Optus to get her modem restarted again every time it fails.

“The thing that really upset me is that I spent three hours, and I mean three hours, via the National Relay Service trying to fix this problem,” Mrs Mitchell said about one occasion.

“Now I’m tying-up the relay service for the whole of Australia – someone might be needing that service,” she said.

“Can you imagine how upsetting that is?” she said.

Following that she waited all afternoon for a promised email from Optus that never arrived. At other times Optus couldn’t even get her name right.

She said she frequently had to repeat her name and identifying information five times in the one phone call as they transferred her from person to person, often cutting her off in the process.

Mrs Mitchell is an independent lady of 80 years who’s still active in the community, serving on the Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee in Bridgetown, among other things.

She’s fed-up with having to rely on her helpful neighbour each time her internet fails again and is so frustrated with the situation she has even sought legal advice.

“Now this is just so upsetting to me because of being deaf and I feel how can I live by myself if I can’t even make a phone call,” she said.

Mrs Mitchell lives at historic Greystones, at the top of the hill on the Brockman Highway on the outskirts of Bridgetown.

She relies on one of Optus’s 4G Wi-Fi modems which works on mobile phone signals. She said Optus has never mentioned the NBN to her and it’s unclear whether she can receive it at home.

However, a spokesperson for NBN Co. said that their was no apparent reason why she couldn’t receive the same fixed wireless NBN service that serves the rest of Bridgetown, and that that she should shop around for an Internet Service Provider that could provide one.

Internet Service Provider Mate Communicate told the Bridgetown Star that they could provide a fixed wireless service to her address providing 25mbps for $59 per month. She’s currently paying Optus $68 per month for a service that’s slower than the available NBN.

Internet access crucial

Barry MacKinnon, president of the Deafness Council of Western Australia, said access to the internet was crucially important for the deaf.

He said that once the NBN was up and working that it generally served deaf people well, and that they generally had more problems with TTY than the internet.

Mr MacKinnon said that while he hasn’t had to deal with Optus, that Telstra had been quite helpful when deaf people had problems with internet access.

He thinks the key to better serving the needs of deaf people is the same for the rest of the community.

“I don’t think it’s any different for deaf people than it is for hearing people, and that is to ensure that the service is universal and there’s good coverage, so that no matter where you are, whether you’re deaf or you’re not you can get access to the service, that’s really what it’s all about,” Mr MacKinnon said.

“And of course in a country like Australia you’re always going to have difficulties in the regions,” he said.

“That’s the real issue for governments is to ensure that they’ve got good coverage across the country for everybody, and that includes people who’ve got disabilities.”

Optus would not be interviewed for this story but in a prepared statement said that keeping customers connected is a priority for Optus, and we are disappointed our customer is experiencing issues.

Our aim is to have Ms Mitchell reconnected as a priority and we apologise for her inconvenience.