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Data Drought

In the throws of the election campaign we were told by the Prime Minister that this is the dawn of the ‘innovation boom’. But, how is the agricultural sector meant to participate in this supposed boom when a recent AgForce survey found that the sector is still suffering from a major data drought?

access to reliable mobile phone connections and 60 per cent of farmers spending more than $300 a month on bundled internet and phone services that don’t meet their expectations, it is hard to imagine what new innovative technologies producers are able to embrace. Instead a lack of telecommunication infrastructure is keeping regional Queensland in the dark ages, costing farmers millions of dollars in lost productivity.

The Campaign

Wife, mother, cattle producer and community volunteer are all hats that Kristy Sparrow from Alpha wears comfortably. However, as someone who didn’t use a computer at school she never thought she would one day be running a hugely popular Facebook Group and website which teaches people how to get the most out of their data as well as being the face of the campaign for better internet for rural, regional and remote Australia. When AgForce spoke to Kristy she was preparing to travel to Brisbane to speak at the Better Broadband for the Bush Conference.

How did she get here? It all started in October 2014 when Kristy was trying to educate her twins at home and “was talking to a friend about how their data kept disappearing and we didn’t have enough data to get through the school curriculum each month. We set up a Facebook group to see if other people had similar concerns. Obviously they did, as it snowballed from there and our page just kept growing.”

“When you have such limited data, it is very important to know where it is all going. For example, your data may be disappearing due to a Windows 10 update or any sort of cloud functions. People in regional areas need to be aware that even sending large emails will chew up their data.”

The website quickly moved on from just talk of disappearing data, with Kristy Sparrow along with Amanda Salisbury becoming the faces of the campaign for better telecommunications in the bush. They conducted their own telecommunications nation-wide survey on their Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Facebook page earlier this year and found that 88% of regional respondents stated current data did not meet their needs.

Internet access is no longer an ‘option’ it’s an essential part of everyday life.
(Internet access was declared a basic human right by United Nations in 2011.)

“The results of our survey reinforced the need for an independent telecommunications advisory body to help guide consumers through the bush broadband ‘jungle of options and answers’, along with an established universal service guarantee for regional Australians.

“Service for regional, rural and remote customers should be equitable in terms of speed, download capabilities and costs.

“If this does not occur regional Australia will be left (even further) behind. We are already seeing a steady stream of people moving away because they can’t access the services they need out here.

“By fixing telecommunications you can encourage business growth in rural Australia. It became quite difficult to run a business and educate the twins on the data plan we were on.

“The BIRRR survey also reflected community concerns about accommodating the growth of data use.

“People are clearly worried that as more and more activities become data hungry, current and proposed plans will be unable to handle the extra load. We already know data use growth is a continuing upward trend: The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports the average broadband downloads grew more than 33 per cent from December 2013 to December 2014.”

“It also illustrates the notion – even with the onset of NBN’s Skymuster – that data growth will soon outgrow the NBN Fair Use Policy that will see 75GB/month peak use data limits on customers.

Currently internet connectivity does not meet the educational, business, health & welfare needs of regional Australians. Peak Data of 75GB on NBN satellite will not future proof Australia’s data needs.
Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia - Kristy Sparrow

“Also Skymuster is not going to assist in any type of mobile phone coverage, they need to be looking at ways to improve this. 

“The telcos really need to look at creating rural and regional call centres where people can call in and speak to someone who understands their concerns, at the moment all they get are overseas call centres who give them the run around. 

“I think the group that we have set up has highlighted the need for a rural telecommunications team, we are just volunteers. We are up over a thousand people we are trying to help navigate through the telecommunications jungle. Because people haven’t had access to the internet before I think they are behind the ball when it comes to technology. This is not something that I ever envisioned that I would be spending my whole day doing.”

Kristy has some advice for producers battling through the telecommunications minefield.

“Talk to people in your community. Your next door neighbour may not be as aware as you are or if there’s a group of you in an area, be aware of what is available to you and your community. There are some companies that are doing their own fixed wireless so if they are in your area then it’s just about knowing what is out there and what you can access. 

“Definitely go to the BIRRR website, there are lots of things on there like how to use your off-peak data and how to apply for Skymuster, we try to keep it as up to date as much as possible. 

“It’s come to the point of time in Australia when you need to shop around and know what is available to you. We have had nearly 20,000 visitors to our page since October last year, that’s a lot of people looking for answers.”

Note: AgForce along with several other farming groups provided submissions to the Federal Government’s Regional Telecommunications Review recently calling for better coordination of infrastructure rollout, affordable options for remote communities and certainty for the NBN rollout.

Want to help push for an end to the data drought? You can add your voice by signing our e-petition here.

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