An Internet revolution is underway in regional Australia, as small telecommunications companies, farmers and citizens are linking arms to work together in order to help end the data drought.
Amidst customer complaints of unreliable access to the Internet across the rural countryside, The Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) Facebook group surveyed almost 2,000 households and found that 88 percent of customers actually did not have access to services that met their needs.
Limited and expensive data is one of the most pressing issues raised in rural Australia, particularly for businesses and families who manage to run through their alloted quota quickly.
Commenting on the issue, BIRRR founder Kristy Sparrow said
Service for regional, rural and remote customers should be equitable in terms of speed, download capabilities and costs. If this does not occur regional Australia will be left [even further] behind.
As a solution, some telecompanies are setting up fixed wireless networks and selling internet plans with unlimited data. The unlimited plans are something that is in high demand in rural Australia, considering that the expensive tariffs have made data, a precious resource.
For instance, Red WiFi in Queensland’s Darling Downs, runs high-speed fiber cable from the base of a tower in town, to their first broadcast location at the top of a local grain silo. Co-founder, Red WiFi, Steve Stephens said the network could keep growing, as long as “they have enough elevated spots on which to place their wireless dishes.”
If there is already existing infrastructure, like if a business owns a bucket elevator or a silo or a building, we will approach them and ask if we can broadcast off their location.
He also added that,
From there we have antennas right around, 90 degree sector antennas, and that gives the whole town internet. From that site we go to our next site, 40 kilometers out of town, with our next wireless link, and that connects those two together and there is another 30-odd kilometers. And so on.
The Federal Government and the National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co.) are currently working on connecting 240,000 rural homes to the NBN through a satellite technology called Sky Muster, which offers usage packages of up to 150GB per month.
This satellite not only delivers fast and reliable speeds, but also bigger monthly quotas for those people who live beyond the reach of a phone exchange. Currently, 31,000 rural Australians are using this service. Furthermore, NBN is working with farmers by having Sky muster demonstration trucks attend agricultural events around Australia to talk and show people about how they can connect.
Slowly but surely, rural Australia is making progress towards a system with equitable and reliable Internet connectivity.