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Ensuring our regions thrive in the 'Digital Age'

12 August 2013

The digital revolution is many things to many Australians – for some it arrived many years ago and is a fluid, ongoing evolution – for others, especially those in regional, rural and remote Australia, it may be early days; it may be still unfolding; it may be untapped; it may be revolutionary.

The roll out of the National Broadband Network is a major factor at work improving the technological capacity and connectivity available to regional Australians, but it is just one part in a suite of changes and opportunities unfolding.

While the Regional Australia Institute’s (RAI) recent research measuring the competitiveness of Australia’s regions reveals which areas have the highest levels of internet connection and are ‘technologically ready’, most importantly it highlights the fact that connectivity alone is not enough.

In order for non-metropolitan Australia to ‘ride the digital wave’, policy makers must go further than high-speed broadband and ensure there is adequate information and communications technology (ICT) support infrastructure in place to aid small businesses, families, farmers and anyone hoping to harness new capabilities.

It is exciting to observe the shrinking disparity between metropolitan and regional connectivity and technological access, but it is important to understand that some communities will need assistance to make the most of this.

For example, Narrogin in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia ranks 156 of 560 Local Government Areas in terms of internet connections, a ‘highly competitive’ result, but has one of the lowest presences of an ICT or electronics workforce in the country.

In the agricultural sector, technological uptake has cemented itself as a vital component of success, but faster internet and access to cheaper technology is not the end of the story.

Organisations assisting businesses in building a website, tapping commodity prices online and keeping farm records via portable devices while out and about are crucial to helping farmers make the most of their new connectivity.

Grain producer organisation GrainGrowers for example, is focussed on driving strategic outcomes for the agricultural and food industry, so it’s not surprising that the company’s  information services division is kept busy running workshops and forums to assist primary producers to understand and harness technology.

And when it comes to ensuring the technology exists to suit a business’s needs, Farm Apps Pty Ltd managing director and farmer Jock Graham provides a great example of what is possible.

In 2011, noting a surge in smartphone technology, the Cootamundra farmer developed F-Track Live – an app designed to eliminate the frustration of records kept in multiple stock and cropping books that may contain input from different users and out of date information.

Beyond the farm gate, there is no doubt that better internet access will enable regional businesses to both start-up and expand. It will equip health carers to support clients in new ways, it will open doors for all manner of communications in the education sector and it will expand the markets available to retailers and producers. But high speeds and better coverage are not the final destination – they are in fact, only the beginning.

 

If you’re curious about how your region stacks up, or want to test your own instincts about what helps to make a community thrive, jump on [In]Sight:http://insight.regionalaustralia.org.au/

 

Independent and informed by both research and ongoing dialogue with the community, the Regional Australia Institute develops policy and advocates for change to build a stronger economy and better quality of life in regional Australia – for the benefit of all Australians.  

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