Floundering on the sea on non-connectivity

I spend a lot of my time on the internet. Much of my work revolves around pages such as Twitter or Facebook where I try to share stories for farmers & consumers, along with catching up with friends. Simple things like researching places to visit for a tour group that I organised for work. Paying bills and keeping bookwork up to date. Keeping documents in the one location so that I can access or share them whenever I need to.

Most people in suburban areas would find doing these actions an easy, hassle-free task. Watching  the latest episode of your favourite sitcom on Netflix, no worries right! Live stream iTunes radio all day while you work, awesome, bring it on!

However, for many in rural & regional Australia it is a real challenge. One that holds them back from reaching their full potential in both business & in their personal lives. It is not an issue just in Australia either. Many of my rural counterparts in the US face the same battles and challenges in their daily lives.

It is not only the lack of reliable internet available, it is also the amount (or lack of) of data available to rural customers that is the issue. 25GB seems like a lot of data until you need to download programs required to run your business, upload 50 documents to the cloud so that they can be accessed by others in your team, regularly post updates to social media or pay your bills. I can’t even imagine doing all this and trying to educate your children via School of the Air or distance education.

Our whole lives are based around the internet these days, and for good reason. It has allowed us opportunities to build stronger businesses, share our stories & keep in contact with our loved ones.

My productive office, connected to internet through my phone as our home mobile broadband gets shaped after 10 or so days (25gb).

However, the internet is critical for the future of agriculture as it is where the next round of farm productivity gains are to be made.

Over the past 10, 25, 50 & even 100 years we have seen huge gains in yields in both crop & livestock industries thanks to better breeding, greater understanding of soils, better agronomy. Whilst gains will still be made in these areas, the digital era will allow fine tuning of all of these areas. Decisions will be made on very specific, location based information & with very little effort on behalf of the farmer.

Whilst our urban counterparts are enjoying NBN, cable or ADSL2, in rural areas we have a limited selection of mobile broadband or satellite connections, all of which are way oversubscribed leading to slow, unreliable connections that chew through data due to the constant reloading of pages or downloads.

How can we get past these troubles? How do we get decision makers to get real about making real efforts to increase services? It is something that has been weighing on my mind of late, here are some of my suggestions:

1. Encourage Start-ups in the internet access space

Surely someone out there has a great idea to provide internet access to rural communities. For a country to have all their internet hopes pinned on just one organisation to roll-out services with little to no innovation is insane. Go crazy & see what else might be out there to get the ball rolling!

2. Look outside the square
According to this news article, the USDA provides funding to internet service providers to ensure small farming communities can access high-speed internet. The USDA gets it. They understand that to keep their rural industries competitive they need to make investments in such technology. Get with the program Australia!
What else can be done to provide internet to small communities? There is talk of drones being used to provide interim internet to small rural communities in the US. Whilst not the best for aerial applicators – I shudder to think of the consequences during summer – it is a great start. why not utilise local grain handling facilities? Think of how great these could be – they provide internet to the surrounding farms & could be wifi hotspots too if they are a closed facility.

3. Get. It. Done.
Come on already. Yes, we all understand that it does take time to roll out these services. But it is extremely frustrating for a rural person to see NBN being rolled out in large towns & cities whilst they are being forgotten. I do hear the NBN are putting on extra staff. Show us how much quicker the services will be rolled out in rural areas!

I’m sure with further thought I could come up with more ideas & links. But I’d love to hear what you all think could get this job done!

Till next time, Meg

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