The Black Christmas bushfires of 2001 highlighted a serious side to the problems of poor mobile phone coverage in the Illawarra's far north.
Wollongong councillor Leigh Colacino lives in Stanwell Park and remembers how residents were cut off both by the fires and by the lack of mobile phone coverage.
"At that time there were reports going out through the media that there'd been a massive loss of life in the Helensburgh-Stanwell Park area," Mr Colacino said.
"That was incorrect but the people who were here had no phone reception. They were down here Christmas Day and they couldn't ring out and tell people they were OK but trapped.
"People were trapped here for 36 to 48 hours, they couldn't get in or out but they didn't have any mobile coverage."
It was the extreme edge of a problem residents in the north deal with every day. Mr Colacino said Stanwell Park was "notoriously bad" for mobile coverage, and the same went for Clifton and most of Coalcliff.
"You can't move your head, you've got to stand still," Mr Colacino said of making a phone call.
"You might just move to another room and, forget it, you can't get any reception. And we're in one of the better spots for reception in Stanwell Park.
"We're on the water and you see tourists driving along with their phone outside the car trying to pick up a signal," he said.
"They'll stand on the guardrails on tippy toes just so they can get a bit of reception. Sometimes there will be cars queueing up."
Mr Colacino is understandably annoyed because, as he points out, northern suburbs residents pay the same mobile phone fees as everywhere else but they don't get the same service.
Landlines aren't much better because of the distance from the exchange at Helensburgh and the ageing infrastructure.
"People here could lose their phone connections for a couple of days and their internet connection they might lose for up to a week," Mr Colacino said.
Other suburbs where people have reported mobile phone black spots include Windang, Primbee, Horsley, Woonona and Fairy Meadow. The University of Wollongong seems to be black-spot prone too, with a number of workers saying their phone doesn't work in certain buildings.
It was an internet connection rather than a phone that was an issue for Kevin Crane. The owner of Broken Glass hair salon in Wentworth Street, Port Kembla, Mr Crane said he had been trying to get connected to the internet for 12 months.
After unsuccessful efforts with a number of providers to get the internet at his salon, Mr Crane was finally able to log on at work on Wednesday, courtesy of one of the smaller providers.
Mr Crane said he found the experience of trying to get connected to the internet frustrating - especially considering the building next door to his was connected.
"They always gave me a different reason and I'd always be on hold all day," Mr Crane said of the struggle to get a connection.
"They keep saying it was the area. When I told them it wasn't good enough, this was 2013, they said I had to wait for the National Broadband Network.
"They kept putting it down to that - that's why they're not updating the area. They said no-one was willing to upgrade Wentworth Street because there wasn't a need for it there."
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said something similar this week, claiming the NBN implementation discouraged other telcos from upgrading their infrastructure due to doubts they would get a return on their investment.
A lack of ports, which is essentially where the provider plugs you into the internet, is often cited by providers - including some of those contacted by Mr Crane - as a reason for failure to be connected.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) spokeswoman Elise Davidson said this could often happen to smaller providers as Telstra owned all the exchanges around the country.
Other providers then have to lease space in that exchange from Telstra, who effectively get to decide who does business in that area and how many ports they can have. This control is something the NBN will be able to break, as it will be publicly owned and everyone will have access to it.
Ms Davidson said access to a quick, reliable internet service was no longer a luxury and fast becoming a necessity in this modern age.
"We use the internet in ways that we didn't five years ago - to access essential services, to apply for jobs, to be able to get Medicare rebates and access to health information," she said.
"It's not just about being able to upload a photo on Facebook in a timely fashion. Services generally are increasingly moving online and you've got the situation where the digital divide between people living in regional areas and those living in cities is widening year by year.
"If people don't have access to good quality reliable broadband, over the next 10 years people are going to be left behind entirely, and they're not going to be able to participate and be a part of Australian society in the way that everyone else takes for granted."
As far as mobile phone coverage and black spots go, Ms Davidson said that was the "No 1 bugbear" of consumers.
"There are black spots in many parts of the country, especially in rural, regional and remote areas," she said.
"They're crying out for mobile coverage. In some areas it's just not commercially viable for providers to put towers up there so the government is looking for other ways for people to have access to mobile telephony."
This would include the possibility of the government co-funding mobile phone infrastructure in areas where it's not commercially viable. The NBN is not an option as the ACCC has ruled that NBN Co - the company building the network - cannot use it for mobile phone services due to competition issues.
As for those northern suburbs black spots, those places where you can walk from one room to another and your call drops out, Ms Davidson said the Illawarra was far from alone.
"That's actually an issue in Sydney and other capital cities as well, it's not just limited to Wollongong," she said.
"The reasons for this are many. Firstly, you need to have enough towers, because the phone is picking up its signal strength from the nearest tower. So it can simply be the distance from the the tower means you won't get any coverage.
"Other factors can be the terrain, for example if it's hilly or you're right down a valley, as you head down into Thirroul and that area. That terrain will make a difference.
"You can have mobile coverage on one side of the mountain and you won't be able to get it on the other side. That's just a fact of physics, in relation to mobile coverage and the way it works."
She said the issue of black spots could be put to an end by building a lot more phone towers across the country but that wasn't a commercial option for network owners Telstra, Vodafone and Optus.
A Vodafone spokeswoman said the company was addressing the black spot problem in the Illawarra.
"We've been working on upgrading our network around the country for two years now and the Illawarra/Wollongong region is a priority," the spokeswoman said.
"To date, we've completed upgrade works on the majority of our sites in the area and customers are reporting an improved service experience.
"We're working on the remaining sites and hope to have the full upgrade complete for the region over coming months."
The spokeswoman said the geography of an area - both natural and urban - could contribute to black spots.
"The improvements we're currently making are designed to help address this variability and smooth the network experience."