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Industry leaders call for better Broadband for the Bush

As the rollout of the NBN marches on, as many as 3.7 million people in rural and remote Australia are being left behind in the country's digital revolution, but one group of experts says that's not good enough.

Image by Toby Hudson, CC BY-SA 3.0

Alice Springs played host to the third Broadband for the Bush Forum at the start of this month, with the aim of discussing Australia's digital future and fighting for the rights of rural Australians to get access to reliable telecommunications and broadband.

One of the major outcomes of the forum was a list of 28 recommendations for businesses, local councils and State and Federal Governments to promote digital inclusion. While Australia's cities face few problems with broadband access, the Broadband for the Bush paper called attention to the needs of those who had been left behind.

"3.7 million Australians do not access the internet regularly, and the number of these people living in remote Australia is disproportionately high," the paper said.

"Emerging broadband and telecommunications offer real opportunities to grow and strengthen remote economies and transform local businesses. As more services move to digital delivery, communities and individuals that are not online risk further social and economic exclusion.

"Broadband is proving important for continuing professional development, online education, and mentoring support in remote areas."

Among the Forum's key findings were material recommendations such as extending mobile coverage and reducing call rates, as well as providing indigenous Australians with prepaid billing for satellite NBN services.

Other recommendations focused on policy shifts such as providing "kick start" funding to local authorities for establishing services, and prioritising more than 100,000 rooftop installations as part of NBN Co's Long Term Satellite Service.

But for Australians with limited broadband, the building of new services is not necessarily an instant fix. According to the paper, "improved infrastructure does not equate to digital inclusion" and this can only be guaranteed by also building digital literacy and awareness, increasing access to services and improving affordability.

Regardless of the individual elements involved, the Forum found that "for remote and rural Australia to participate successfully in the national and global digital economy, a targeted strategy is required".