Helpline for regional broadband launches to help boost internet in the bush
“Coming from the city myself, I definitely was one of those people that took it for granted.”
Jenna Widdison moved from Brisbane to Adelong, in regional New South Wales, last year.
That was the moment she was struck by just how hard getting connected to the internet in the bush really was.
“Moving back and having troubles with connection, I think you don’t really realise the struggles that people have in rural areas,” she said.
That insight, together with a background in marketing and IT, drew her to the latest program designed to help regional Australians get online, the Regional Tech Hub.
“For us, it’s getting people connected, helping them stay connected, helping them better use their existing connections,” Ms Widdison, the Hub’s first manager, said.
“[Our work involves] things like troubleshooting connections and data usage and then assisting people using their internet for things like business, health, education, and social developments.”
New era for broadband in Australia
The Federal Government is investing in regional communications programs, including an $83 million grants program, a new round of mobile black spot funding and now the $900,000 Regional Tech Hub which launches today.
That is on top of spending by NBN Co which includes a $300 million co-investment fund, hundreds of millions of dollars on business fibre in the regions and around $200 million on improvements to fixed wireless.
Despite the spending, the formal NBN rollout is complete and NBN Co does not have immediate plans to extend fibre outside its current footprint.
At the same time, federal spending is being matched and in some areas exceeded by state government money.
The Victorian Government last month pledged $300 million for to fix mobile black spots and another $250 million for broadband improvements.
It follows the NSW Government’s $400 million Regional Digital Connectivity investment last year, which introduces “data hubs”, “farms of the future” and improved infrastructure in target locations.
And councils and communities have begun undertaking their own independent upgrade paths, leaving an increasingly complicated communications environment.
Navigating the broadband jungle
The Regional Tech Hub, which is being managed by the National Farmers Federation, is loosely based on volunteer project Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australians (BIRRR) that has helped thousands to get better internet over the past six years.
One of its co-founders, Kristy Sparrow, said funding was “always welcomed” in the bush, but infrastructure alone could not help people “navigate the broadband jungle”.
“By providing people with the tools to help themselves get connected, such as fact sheets on how to choose a good provider, equipment needed to maximise connections and myth busting what a regional connection looks and feels like [we can help people get connected],” she said.
Ms Sparrow said the creation of the Hub would free BIRRR from daily troubleshooting, giving it more time to focus on advocacy.
Regional Communications Minister Mark Coulton said the Hub would help to improve the digital literacy of Australians in regional, rural and remote areas “by providing a one-stop source of independent, practical advice”.
Trent Geddes, a 34-year-old former radio journalist and self-confessed tech enthusiast, is taking up the troubleshooting torch as one of the Hub’s first employees. He invites people to visit the website or call up for help.
“We look around and see what technologies are available in your area and which one would better suit you,” he said.
“We lay it all out on the table so you can make a more informed decision than you might have when you go online.”
The Regional Tech Hub can be visited online at regionaltechhub.org.au or by calling 1300 081 029.
ABC is looking for people in regional Australia who have gone to extraordinary lengths to get the internet connection they need. Dug a spectacular trench? Ordered fibre through Technology Choice? Rallied a whole community to upgrade its access? Please email [email protected].