The Broadband for the Bush Alliance is seeking feedback on the recommendations from the third Broadband for the Bush Forum: Building a Better Digital Economy, held in Alice Springs on 30 April and 1 May 2014.
The Broadband for the Bush Communiqué 2014 recommends a dedicated communications strategy for remote and rural Australia. A targeted strategy was considered to be vital for successful participation in the national and global digital economy – and necessary because city policies aimed at the majority of Australians are not appropriate where there is market failure or for the very different circumstances in remote and rural Australia.
The use of smartphones and tablets to access the internet in a number of remote communities was discussed at the Forum and it was proposed that the communications strategy should include expansion of mobile coverage, as well as broadband. It is vital that there is affordable pricing for mobile calls in remote and rural Australia.
The dedicated remote area communications strategy would enable more rational use of existing infrastructure, including fibre connections provided by different arms and levels of government and by industry, with smart last mile solutions, to maximise the use of fibre already laid to or near remote communities.
It was agreed that governments and telecommunications providers should be encouraged to support and facilitate local co-designed approaches to get the best possible outcomes. For example, there should be co-investment by local councils and communities, and in-kind support through provision of land to enable lower cost installation of infrastructure.
The communiqué also includes detailed recommendations around 4 themes: digital inclusion; technology and policy; digital economy; and digital services, as well as key outcomes from the Indigenous Focus Day on 29 April 2014.
The National Rural Health Alliance was represented at the 2014 Forum and participated on the Digital Services panel.
There was considerable interest in the extent to which broadband access has become significant in online education, continuing professional development, and mentoring and support for health professionals in rural and remote areas.
The recommendations around the digital services theme include:
• designated online services should be platform-neutral and available through unmetered sites;
• ensure access points within communities are made available to enable access to digital services;
• where Government or large corporate capacity is provided, aggregation of usage and sharing capacity should be encouraged through incentives;
• there should be support to enable communities to commence online digital interactions with existing technology, skills and infrastructure;
• the design of e-government and other services must take into account usability, as well as the capabilities, range of connectivity modes, and privacy needs of end users; and
• there should be consideration of how existing infrastructure and spaces can support online learners.
The Broadband for the Bush Alliance is a group of organisations that are committed to the digital inclusion of remote and rural Australia. It brings together a range of stakeholders with expertise in communications, remote service delivery and community engagement.
Visit broadbandforthebush.com.au for more information about it, to see some of the presentations and to read the detailed recommendations in the 2014 Forum Communiqué.