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 breakout sessions. It reflects the thoughts of the session recorders and is presented as a list of ideas under the headings of Problems, Solutions, Interesting ideas and Recommendations. It is not a summary of each breakout, per se, as many ideas were raised many times. The order of ideas is not reflective of the importance delegates gave to each, as people were not together in the same place to discuss this. 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 .
Breakout Sessions – Common Discussions
Cultural sensitivity is needed when working in Indigenous communities around communications issues and projects. Community liaison is important. There is a need for a knowledgeable go-between for providers and consumers.
Remote researchers and researchers in remote communities, struggle to be both recognized and funded. Yet research in remote communities is key to lobbying for better Internet services.
The urban broadband commercial models won’t work in the remote and rural settings. Need different people contributing to a thinktank about this.
The Digital Inclusion Index did not include Remote Indigenous Communities. Need a culturally sensitive way of collecting data and making the personal stories captured an important part of the data set.
There are many barriers to people self-selecting to upskill their digital literacy – people don’t know what they don’t know and how their lack of understanding is holding them back.
It is hard to develop local talent in Indigenous communities that extends beyond helping family. It is also difficult to develop local talent in rural communities. Agriculture and rural communities need expertise and the broadband facilities to attract and keep expertise and spawn a new high-tech Agriculture sector.
Young people need investment, so the next generation of IT professionals includes creative and enterprising Indigenous people. The New Australian ICT subjects from K-10 are a great start, but so few teachers have sufficient expertise to tell ICT stories well and design high level IT experiences like coding, robotics, systems development, database design and web hosted projects.
Remote management of IT services is difficult, unreliable and the smallest barrier can stop services working for extended periods.
IT Solutions “sold” to remote Indigenous communities, are not necessarily the best solutions for the context. Communities need good reliable unbiased advice before “signing up” to services.
Connectivity issues still need airtime and talk time – many blackspot areas can be developed more effectively; more information is needed about Skymuster outages; currently the NBN call centre is not sufficiently large; power issues are difficult in some areas. It’s not simple or easy to get connected or sustain connections yet. More targeted data collection is needed, to provide arguments for better service. The BIRRR Model is inspiring.
Communities on the national backbones, eg those along the Great Central Highway including Warburton and soon Docker River, should be connected free and have reasonably costed monthly plans – better still, some free bandwidth should be provided as a matter of course, so communities grow in usage.
There is a story being retold in the media, that connectivity is improving through special solutions. Niche solutions like CAT Hotspots, small cell installations and public Wi-Fi are part of temporary solutions because providers are not stepping up to the plate. Need better thinking about this.
There is much that could be done with existing infrastructure, including satellite phones and public phones as well as some of the niche solutions. NBN could use Black Spots better to provide solutions to local people. More creative thinking is needed
Broadband service provision is pre-occupied with cost rather than value. Need a shift in mindset.
Data plans are woefully inadequate and need much more flexibility in design. Why is half the data between midnight and 4am? People are changing lifestyles to use data for business needs. All Government sites should be unmetered even when no credit is available. Teachers for example need more data at the beginning and end of terms and less in the middle – they should be able to buy a term or year’s credit and use it as needed (load balancing). Teachers and other professionals need better upload speeds – often more important than downloads.
Emergency Services need to use a variety of technologies across situations and locations and a uniform communications platform is not here yet.
Remote training with consistent messages will need to move to an online model, but language and accessibility is an issue. Local verses online training is a continuing debate.
The importance of connectivity and giving everyone good access needs to be seen as a vital right. Can connectivity be seen as an important part of the wellbeing and health of a community and individuals? There are many similar social arguments. Connectivity is an essential service like electricity and running water.
Use technology more wisely. There is a need for good tools. Culture Pad and In-your-pocket apps a good example of tools that work well in local contexts, especially when connectivity is not ubiquitous. Using bandwidth-friendly solutions important until bandwidth is better and more affordable.
Local content from a community is valued most and should be available locally without using quotas and remote servers – media organisations do this well.
Electronic or e-processes should be increasingly used in remote Health and VET works – eg scripts for medication, consultation by e-services etc.
Libraries need to be reconceptualised to be about creating local content, as well as accessing content.
Schools and communities need to ensure the needs of young people are foremost in the ICT Literacy debate, but also ensure young people have opportunity to be ICT specialists. Young people can live in remote and rural communities and have IT careers without leaving community if connectivity and services are robust and state of the art.
Lobbying for better data plans is easily possible by RRRCC, B4BA and others – it’s a simple thing for providers to supply if they are pressured. Need more flexible data plans to account for remote lifestyles, school terms and uploads. Ask customers what they need.
More niche solutions, eg small cell, hotspots and active repeater coverage are viable for short term solutions and start communities on their digital journey, but it is not sufficient.
There is a need for a professional IT consultancy business for remote and rural communities, so they make wise decisions – a go-between the providers and the consumers.
For emergency services, social media is the most significant communications and education channel. Need to have ways of eliminating false news.
Working with personal and local content to build media is always best to engage people – an oldie but a goodie idea.
Remote ICT support is difficult, as folks can’t always explain their problem in a way that helps solve it – “It is broken”. Training up local people to communicate technical issues to a remote help desk may be useful.
Indigenous stories can be presented as academic products. Both universities and the academic community need to accept their value. Connected technology can be an enabler.
Software and services need to be designed to work in bandwidth friendly ways, and use technologies to reduce costs and quota usage – eg local content, local broadcasts, local storage, offline apps and synching.
Connectivity is often just not up to scratch to be a mainstream process yet, – early adopters use technology but many can’t rely on it. The eservices from Govt also need connection and it is this part that consumers in remote communities do not have. Yet the whole of Aust is expected to use Govt e-services – eg Centrelink.
Private networks need more airtime at B4BA discussions and forums – do people understand them – what can be provided – what are the short and long term benefits and pitfalls?
Need to focus on economic outcomes, not only digital inclusion issues. Need to look ahead and invest in future enterprises, as well as support those catching up.
There is a symbiotic relationship between take up of smart farming and the case for regional broadband. Service jobs directly relate to the increase in Internet usage and industry. The Internet can drive economy and jobs – the notion of smart rural towns is worthy of support – mixing lifestyles, lower living costs and new smart/online industries.
Training needs more discussion – most people don’t learn to use common services through training – but rather through device ownership, motivated use and supportive community to ask questions and get on-the-spot help. So is the idea of a staffed access centre still a better solution – many examples in remote Indigenous communities to explore – NG Media, Wilurarra Creative, Arlparra. Not easy to sustain, but when they do, they make a big difference over time. Full time language speakers make a huge difference to people in the community.
Need to create an imperative to get online, eg in UK, people can only access welfare services online – need support in rural Australia; incentives, not punishment for not checking into welfare services – eg Centrelink does not help communities.
The best IT teachers and IT professionals (as role models) should be in the bush. Rural communities need to welcome online workers and use the benefits of rural living to attract people, but also provide the best bandwidth in the country to attract and retain high level uses and industries..
Experience in forming RRRCC, pointed to a need to grow membership with contributions of time, research, knowledge, expertise; and networks. Need research for good argument and membership to have strong voice.
The lack of connectivity in agriculture is already crippling and will make/break some businesses and communities.
Digital Inclusion Index needs to include Remote Indigenous Communities.
Face-to-face personal conversations are the best way to learn in remote indigenous communities.
Amidst broader discussion, there is still a need to focus on connectivity for those who don’t yet have reliable and affordable access.
ICT support is important, especially for community facilities, and local people might need to be trained in Indigenous communities to access online and helpdesk support.
There is a need for a professional IT consultancy and greater information for remote and rural communities, so they make wise decisions – a go-between the providers and the consumers.
Tariff and usage models should be decided by communities and consumers – what would work best for them on an equity basis and help them get quality and quantity of bandwidth for local needs. Ask consumers about plans they need.
Need to invest in young people, so they become part of the next generation of IT specialists – need a hand -up, not a hand out.
Need to be able to explain the outcomes resulting from digital literacy better to communities and encourage people to see beyond their current lifestyles and social use of online services.
Need to lobby Government to see the value in funding IT consultancy to remote communities to help communities, remote businesses and non-profits and families make wiser IT decisions, especially in the free-market economy, where providers are mainly geared to urban environment solutions.
Emergency services may need to spend more energy developing local expertise, so local messages are given in context, pre, during and after disasters. Local safety for remote workers needs more effort yet, but standards are now emerging for service providers to use.
Need to develop rural and remote IT industries and lifestyles and provide the Internet services which will attract and retain people – smart rural communities.