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11 January, 2021

How to get a high-quality internet connection in the bush

2020 saw the Federal Government launch the new Regional Tech Hub and announce a raft of NBN Australia upgrade announcements (including Sky Muster Plus), the Alternate Voice Service Trials, the Regional Connectivity Program and more mobile blackspot funding.

By Candyce Grew RURAL LEADER EDITOR

“BUSH internet is bad and I can’t get nbn,” are some of the biggest misconceptions about connectivity in rural areas, according to Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia’s (BIRRR) Kristy Sparrow.

2020 proved to be a massive year for the advocacy group with thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

BIRRR saw an increase of 44 per cent on their volunteer workload and countless hours of video conferencing with telecommunication stakeholders, as the rest of Australia learnt how to educate and work from home.

2020 also saw the Federal Government launch the new Regional Tech Hub and announce a raft of NBN Australia upgrade announcements (including Sky Muster Plus), the Alternate Voice Service Trials, the Regional Connectivity Program and more mobile blackspot funding.

It also saw the introduction of Telstra SMS over wifi (sending a text message via your wifi connection, even if you don’t have mobile service) and Telstra’s Regional Advisory Network team.

During the past year over 41,000 people visited BIRRR’s website to seek help and information on connectivity.  Their Facebook group grew to 12,500 members and almost 2000 people were assisted via BIRRR’s form system of escalation and desk checks.

ABOUT BIRRR

Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) was originally started as a Facebook group in 2014. 

Rural mums, Kylie Stretton of Charters Towers and Kristy Sparrow, from Alpha, set up the group when they both noticed unexplained, excessive usage on their mobile broadband data.

As Kristy struggled to deal with educating her children via distance education and both women dealt with very limited internet to run their businesses, they began to respond to media enquiries.

With support and online action gathering momentum, BIRRR took to Twitter with the hashtag #fixbushinternet and #DataDrought.

The group works with contacts in NBN, Telstra and other service providers, as well as government departments to advocate and lobby for #betterbushcomms.

REGIONAL TECH HUB

The National Farmers’ Federation launched the Regional Tech Hub in December 2020.

The hub delivers on recommendations of the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review and is an initiative of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

Mrs Sparrow said BIRRR had long advocated for the need for a specialist regional troubleshooting team to help with the vast array of connectivity issues and misconceptions, often specific to living beyond urban areas.

The new hub will take over the troubleshooting role BIRRR has (inadvertently) taken on over the past six years – in this time the volunteer team has helped thousands of people get (and stay) connected, has built an amazing community offering information and support, and achieved many improvements in regional communications.

“We know many consumers still find telecommunications in the regions difficult to navigate. BIRRR has been working closely with the RTH to ensure our expertise and knowledge is passed on and that regional users can continue to access independent advice on getting connected and staying connected,” she said.

The BIRRR team will now focus its energies on working with stakeholders to ensure government, providers and NBN keep improving telecommunications, policy and funding available to regional areas.

“We are very keen to get back to the core reason we formed BIRRR – to focus more on advocacy and ensure that funding reflects the needs of regional users,” Mrs Sparrow said.

GETTING THE RIGHT CONNECTION

Mrs Sparrow said there was still a lot of misconception about what connectivity options are available in regional and rural areas and she encourages those who are unsure to contact the hub and get a desk check done. 

"Every Australian residence is eligible for an nbn connection and it is incredibly important that you don’t just rely on one type of technology for your internet and voice services," she said.

"No technology is 100 per cent reliable, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket, if you can’t get mobile service, then ensure you have a landline and nbn Sky Muster.

“We did a survey of nbn Sky Muster users recently, the results will be released in the next few weeks.   We found that 70 per cent of people on satellite were happy with their service and that it met their current needs. 

"There are definitely connectivity solutions available to people in the bush.

“However, there’s a huge need for more research and data into the needs and wants of regional users, and place-based solutions to ensure connectivity in regional communities meets these needs now and into the future.

“In terms of getting connected, it’s incredibly important to ensure that you choose a good provider, who offers great customer support.  A lot of the time people have an issue with their connection, it is related to their in-home equipment, so it’s essential you choose a provider who will listen and act on your concerns and provide support until the issue is resolved.”

Mrs Sparrow said it is very easy to change providers and the days of lengthy lock in contracts have long gone. 

People should also ensure they are using a generic email address and not one linked to a provider, so that if they aren’t having a good experience they can easily change.

To get help with finding internet technology, understanding plans and choosing a good provider, there is a wealth of information available on the Regional Tech Hub website, which will be regularly updated.

GET IN TOUCH

For more information about the Regional Tech Hub and to get help with getting or staying connected visit www.regionaltechhub.org.au or call 1300 081 029.

For more information about Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia visit www.birrraus.com.


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