Forum VI Conclusions
The final session of the Forum drew on what the attendees were thinking by the end of the forum. It was a well-designed and well-managed session aimed at converging opinion and learnings into key recommendations. The document summarises the recorded recommendations from that session.
The Broadband for the Bush Alliance hosted Forum VI in Freemantle in June 22-23, 2017. Approximately 150 people from a variety of remote and rural communities met to share ideas, gather information and discuss remaining issues in a “state-of-the-nation” style program, peppered with keynotes and reports, about Australian broadband and use. There were three sets of data collected. Firstly, the program itself is a report about the issues the delegates wanted to hear about and talk about with like-minded peers. Secondly, a series of breakout sessions designed to invoke discussion, resulted in key issues being raised in the context of the work of delegates. Thirdly the delegates met at the end of the forum to draw conclusions about the most important issues yet to resolve. All three parts need to be read to gain insight into the richness of the forum in 2017.
This document contains a synthesis of the main ideas raised in the final sessions. It reflects the thoughts of the session recorders and is presented as a list of ideas under the headings of statistical evidence, accelerating engagement and connectivity, connecting communities of practice and policy actions. The delegates used a rich process to distill their main issues. What is apparent is that the ideas raised by keynotes and reports, those from breakout sessions and personal experiences, are evident in the final conclusions of the forum. The documents provide the Alliance with work to do, until the delegates and forum teams meet again.
Considering areas of statistical or evidence-based research that would be useful but do not currently exist, the Forum recommends:
- Research into how much it costs government to not have functional internet access accounting for
- Quality of life;
- Social, cultural and emotional indicators including case studies of comparisons between connected and non-connected communities.
- Leveraging Government collected data resources to include digital inclusion in the Closing the Gap data collection.
- Comparison of international and Australian data on health, education, agriculture, indigenous culture and dollars invested to productivity; comparing absence of technology with access to technology.
- Uploading summaries of existing innovative projects on to the B4BA app/website to develop a Knowledge Bank of collected data.
- Community based qualitative research on the health outcomes, general community wellbeing and usage/behaviour following connection to the Internet, for better or worse.
Considering strategies to employ to accelerate engagement and adoption of technology in rural, regional and remote areas, the Forum recommends:
- Wi-Fi meshing to include all houses in remote communities
- Empowering communities by providing equipment, incentivizing, awareness (why this works for you), support/mentoring and allowing a choice of which “package” suits individuals
- Provide unmetered data for government services, education, health, banking and critical commerce areas
- The creation of sustainable and community specific sites that can support and resource people at a local level with flexible structures allowing communities to develop diverse approaches
- Make internet access reliably available and inexpensive; invest in a long-term engagement strategy; adopt simple user interfaces and self-directed learning opportunities
Considering ways to connect communities of practice:
- Continue the B4BA Forum and Indigenous Focus Day to share concerns and solutions
- Connect communities using a B4BA app as well as using existing social media and suitable websites to share projects, case studies and resources
- Set up online discussion groups around key topics
- Start a series of webinars/ network sessions
- Develop regular working groups and networking opportunities around specific areas of interest with adequate resourcing
- Expand the reach of B4BA forums regionally to ensure more people who experience digital exclusion are part of the forum and aware of the outcomes
Considering policy changes that should be made to enhance digital inclusion in the bush, the forum recommends:
- There is now urgent need for a Remote Telecommunications Strategy to be written.
- Remote communities need to be included in survey and research projects and Digital Inclusion Indices
- A needs-based data allocation for SkyMuster services
- Including digital inclusion as a basic human right
- Requirement for Indigenous representation on decision making boards, lobby groups and research organisations and ensure there is data collection and feedback gathered from digitally excluded and remote communities.
The Indigenous Focus Day
The Indigenous Focus Day was aptly named with a strong focus on generating recommendations for Indigenous communities whose voice is not heard against the well resourced and organised rural and regional sectors. Their recommendations add to the voice of the forum and are reported in full elsewhere.
Key themes emerging from the Indigenous Focus Day included
- Remote Indigenous people remain the most digitally excluded population in Australia
- Digital inclusion should be considered a human right
- Major obstacles are affordability and access to infrastructure, equipment and online services; also cyber-safety, security and skills
- More mobile coverage and WiFi solutions needed due to mobility and limited home internet
- Locally relevant projects, content and applications are the key to engagement
- Partnerships and knowledge sharing are key enablers
- Digital mentors needed to increase skills and awareness; a new job in communities
- Devices are often shared, not individual
- Prepaid services are used more than billed, but expensive