Many ideas emerged from the 2017 Forum. This is one.
Voices not heard in the Broadband and Digital Inclusion Debates
Broadband consumers and organisations from the most disconnected remote and rural areas met in Fremantle last week at the Annual Forum of the Broadband for the Bush Alliance.
Typically arguments for Broadband access revolve around technical provision from service providers and Government, affordability and access. This year, the conversations of the forum emphasised the emotional impact and cost to development and economic potential, that Digital Exclusion causes.
One hundred and thirty affected people met to share experiences from their reality, analyse the policy broadband frameworks and consumer reports, and look ahead, deciding on actions and advocacy for the next year. Their findings are bleak reading. Remote Indigenous and other communities lament the missed opportunities when excluded from the digital services, conversations and work flows afforded to urban organisations and communities. Rural and remote people face the frustration of the expectation by Government and other central services that they have quality low-cost ubiquitous broadband, when the reality is far different with slow unreliable and expensive connections inhibiting development and community well-being.
“My community despairs when people can’t stay in touch with family, and are expected to access online Government Services when call centres take hours to answer the phone. You can’t demand obligations and then not provide the tools and access we need. (Reference to Centrelink processes)”, Daisy O’Byrne, IRCA Board and NG Media Board Chair, Irrunytju/Wingellina WA.
Digital Inclusion for remote and rural communities and people is what the Alliance wants, and the 2017 Forum overwhelmingly concluded that more media and Government attention needs to address digital inclusion as the primary focus of conversations about Broadband, rather than only discussions of blackspots, online speeds and service providers.
The forum advocated that
- Digital Inclusion is a human right.
- Digital Inclusion should be a ‘closing the gap’ indicator
- Deliberate data collection is needed to measure digital inclusion in remote and rural Australia.
Specifically the forum attendees demanded that
- The data collection for the Digital Inclusion Index needs to include remote and Indigenous Australia, an omission which is not understood by the forum attendees
- An appropriate data collection methodology needed (including face to face and language-based surveys) for all research in remote and Indigenous Australia
- That Government and others focus on the human aspect of digital inclusion firstly, rather than only technical aspects when forming policy