Data drought addressed through tech hub

Government to fund digital literacy hub to address connectivity

VOICE OF REASON: Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia, co-founder, and Alpha Qld grazier Kristy Sparrow.

VOICE OF REASON: Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia, co-founder, and Alpha Qld grazier Kristy Sparrow.


Government to fund digital literacy hub to address connectivity


Rural Australia is being left behind due to a data drought that has implications for education, health, employment and business. 

While a lack of infrastructure and connectivity compared to metropolitan areas has underpinned the disparity of access, the recent Regional Telecommunications Independent Review found the data drought was exacerbated by a lack of digital literacy in rural areas.

Digital literacy doesn't just mean knowing bits from bytes, according to telecommunications advocacy group, Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) it means many Australians don't know how to get connected to the internet, let alone how to get a plan suited to their household.

In direct response to the review, last week the Federal government announced a funding package aimed at increasing digital connectivity in regional areas. 

Along with a commitment to fund rounds five and six of the Mobile Black Spot Program, the government announcement said $60 million had been earmarked for a Regional Connectivity Program. 

While details on the program are scant, the government said this will include provision for a "digital tech hub" aimed at increasing digital literacy. 

BIRRR, co-founder and Alpha grazier, Kristy Sparrow said the advocacy organisation had identified support for digital literacy as a key need for its membership, a role the group of volunteers had been carrying out for four years. 

"A lot of people don't have the skills to know how to get connected," she said. 

"They don't know how to pick a good provider and they don't even know that they can have a different provider.

"They don't know how to pick a data plan, or know anything about speed tiers, routers and how to hook up their WiFi connection.

"Digital literacy funding has been at the top of our list of advocacy issues and will enable consumers to help themselves more and solve their own issues."

Ms Sparrow said while digital literacy was an issue across Australia, rural and remote areas were particularly hard hit on two fronts, the lack of walk-in support service centres and the complexity of getting connected in the first plase.

"For a start, satellite is a data limited connection, if you are in the city you don't need to worry about checking your data usage or quarantining data for use in your business or children's education," she said.

Ms Sparrow said there were no details available regarding what the Digital Tech Hub would look like, however she understood there would be a consultation process. 

She said while she thought face to face support was unrealistic, to achieve the objectives there needed to be a human element as opposed to a static website.

 "I would really like to see a call centre with a chat feature to offer support," she said.

"People have to be able to ring in, because there are people out there who aren't connected.

"I'd also like to see some form of digital literacy documents developed, for instance podcasts and fact sheets."

Ms Sparrow said the BIRRR team look forward to being part of the consultation process around the development of a digital tech hub and what it would look like on the ground.

"BIRRR volunteers are keen to get back to doing more lobbying and less troubleshooting," she said.


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