How remote is too remote? Bringing broadband to regional and remote Australia
Recently, satellite guru Jacob King (Product Manager for Managed Services: Satellite at nbn) and I attended the Isolated Children and Parent's Association (ICPA) national conference in Alice Springs.
The ICPA is a group dedicated to advocating for a fair go for rural and remote families, especially relating to education, health and telecommunications. nbn has worked closely with both local and national ICPA groups for many years.
How remote, you ask? Take Lara*, one of the many people we spoke to. She lives around 100 kilometres south of Alice on a dirt road. She can drive for six hours and not get to the end of her property. She is raising two children.
Or Toni, who quite possibly lives in one of Australia's most remote cattle stations. Over 700 kilometres north of Alice, it is completely surrounded by desert. She is raising four kids.
During my presentation, I asked the 200-strong crowd how many of them had nbn™ Sky Muster™ services. Around three quarters of the crowd raised their hands.
Over the course of the two-day conference, neither Jacob nor myself were approached by attendees indicating their service was not operating as expected.
While that's pleasing and indicates the hard work of the satellite team is paying off, we still have a ways to go to educate the community and overcome the reputation issues caused at the launch of the service.
For example, Mary from western Queensland and I were taking about her current service – a 3G service that she felt is expensive and erratic. When I asked why she has not connected to nbn™ Sky Muster™ services, she told me that she had heard bad stories; she explained that, for her, it was a case of better the devil you know.
When I talked her through the improvements that we have made to the stability, she said she would have another look at the options available to her.
Or Jenny who, because she has access to a 3G service, assumed she wasn't eligible for access to nbn™ Sky Muster™ services. I explained that this was not the case and that she could start checking out plans offered by retail service providers (RSPs) right away.
The conference was a fantastic opportunity to educate the crowd about the role of nbn versus RSPs, installation and appointment processes, and the appropriate pathways for resolving issues.
It is crucial for nbn to continue to have a presence at these types of conferences for these exact reasons. It’s also important because, being so isolated, seizing opportunities to engage with Aussies from groups like this is paramount. Jacob and I received our fair share of appreciation for making the effort to answer questions and 'face the music'.
We were provided with a unique opportunity for a personal tour of the Alice Springs School of the Air (ASSOA) by world-renowned expert on distance education, Dr. William Newman. ASSOA provides education to students who are too far from a physical school.
We were privileged to sit in on a lesson with a couple of year eight students who live over three hours from Alice Springs. These children conduct daily lessons in all the regular subjects, but also have to complete a significant amount of self-guided work.
Compared to many other Australians, the challenges they must overcome to deliver education is truly remarkable, but is now being made easier through access to fast broadband such as via the nbn™ broadband access network. ASSOA uses an interactive platform to deliver face-to-face lessons, demonstrate concepts on whiteboards and even deliver dance lessons!
Here, nbn™ Sky Muster™ demonstrated its benefits again through its education port, which showed that it could be a boon for remote students, providing greater data allowances to upload and download school work.
The satellite team continues to work with the likes of ASSOA to ensure they are able to remain on the cutting edge of distance education.
This trip was a reminder of how increased access to fast broadband is changing lives, but also how much work remains to be done to ensure people fully understand the nbn™ access network and what it might mean for them and for Australia’s future.
Finally, it was a reality check of all the things I personally take for granted or deem difficult. The people in these extremely remote locations are nothing short of amazing, and I have complete admiration for their pioneering spirit and their ability to find ways to overcome the tyranny of distance to live their lives.
*The names and information of the people mentioned in this blog have been altered to preserve their anonymity.