If Google Maps is to be believed, Paul Adam's house technically does not exist.
Located on the outskirts of Tottenham, NSW (about 90 minutes west of Dubbo), his property doesn’t show up on a GPS, let alone the world’s most comprehensive map service.
Adam runs a grain and land operation while raising a family in their tight-knit community. But like those in Orange, Cargo and even a neighbour in Tottenham, Adam’s ability to juggle the expectations of a business and a family is becoming increasingly reliant on a network that doesn’t exist: “Mobile phones and data – the ability to do things on the go – has changed how we do business. We’re able to organise things, order parts, look at diagrams, trade grain, banking… all of that is part of our business and now we rely on it every day. We sometimes struggle to even get an email in the paddock – once you get below two bars it’s a struggle; with one bar we won’t receive anything. That lets us down a bit throughout the day.”
Like many communities in regional Australia, the disparity between what those in regional Australia pay compared to those in the city is simply a matter of fairness. “Is it comparable to what a big portion of Australia’s population receives? I don’t think so. I think we pay top dollar for a pretty average service at times. I don’t mind paying for extra service, but coverage is important and we need it with greater data packages.”
Though coverage is patchy (and business activity difficult) Adam has devised a multitude of workaround solutions to meet his and his family’s needs. But what happens when those needs multiply? Adam’s wife works as a school teacher, where she often has to stay well into the night to access reliable internet to complete her work. And for his young children – though the coverage may not be a huge issue now – Adam and his wife get a sense this is going to change in a big way: “Kids will probably start to have bigger assignments, so it’s going to be an ongoing issue, and our use of technology, even within our business, is changing all the time, so it’ll have greater demands on us too.”
When it comes to technology in the field, Adam is spot-on – Precision Agriculture (or Smart Farming) – is one of the fastest growing Internet of Things (IoT) markets in the world, expected to be worth $3.7 billion in the next 12 months alone. This involves taking data from sensors and satellites so farmers can make accurate decisions on when to fertilise and irrigate, when to harvest, or sell at the best market price. A study from IBM showed that 25% of preventable crop losses could have been saved with precision agriculture. This even extends to livestock where, for example, a drone with thermal imaging cameras could spot abnormal body temperatures and find unhealthy patterns amongst the herd, thus solving the problem before it spreads.
To harness this new frontier of technology, we need a reliable network first. For Adam, this is priority number one, and an area where the local monopoly doesn’t help. “I don’t have a choice in our telco provider – Telstra is our only option. The only other option is up in Tullamore; [they have] an Optus tower with intermittent reception all the way back home.” For farmers like Adam, the idea of domestic roaming – where mobile towers are open to all consumers, regardless of which mobile provider they are with – would be a boon for coverage and choice:
“At the moment [Telstra] still have a monopoly on the market. Quite often in business dealings we have people coming to our farm, and unless they are with Telstra it gets awkward finding our farm. Domestic roaming would certainly open up the market and open up better access to mobile service throughout the bush.”
The change can happen, but it starts with you. If you support domestic roaming, contact your local MP and let them know.