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Connectivity and digital inclusion in the Northern Gulf: Participant-focused report

Authors
  • Marshall, Amber
  • Dale, Allan
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2019
Source
Queensland University of Technology ePrints Archive
Keywords
License
Unknown

Abstract

This research project is about giving a voice to cattle farmers in Far North Queensland (FNQ) who are among the most digitally excluded people in our country (Thomas et. al., 2018). As a former resident of Chillagoe (and remote parts of the Northern Territory) I am familiar with the personal and economic challenges associated with getting connected and staying connected in the bush. I wanted, however, to explore issues beyond those of obtaining an internet connection (be it via a mobile network, NBN fixed wireless or satellite, or an ADSL phone line). I wanted to understand how internet connectivity (or, in some cases, lack thereof) impacts the lives and livelihoods of agricultural communities in the Far North, including the social and economic impacts of poor connectivity. Primarily, I wanted to find out how the internet helps (and hinders) people to get things done and lead happy, healthy lives in the bush. This includes staying connected to friends and family; establishing, operating and expanding businesses; and participating more generally in the ‘digital economy’ beyond geographic isolation. To conduct the research, I partnered with the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group (NGRMG); a community-based natural resource management (NRM) organisation working with property owners to balance economic, cultural, and environmental interests in managing land in the region. Between June and October 2018, I attended social and educational events across the Northern Gulf in Mareeba, Chillagoe, Almaden, Mount Surprise and Georgetown. I was also privileged to visit several properties, including Sugarbag Yards, Wetherby Station and Pinnarendi Station. These visits (which enabled me to see firsthand the on-farm connectivity setup and spend time talking with people) provided me deeper insights into how households and businesses rely on and use the internet in the bush. This provided the basis for three case studies, which accompany this report (link TBA). In this report I will share with you – the FNQ resident – what those who participated in the study told me about how the internet (and telecommunications generally) impacts your life, for better or for worse. By analysing these insights and drawing out key themes, I make some broad observations about critical issues regarding bush internet, specifically in agricultural contexts. I also make suggestions for what could be done to improve digital inclusion in rural FNQ. The research is funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), which is Australia's peak body for consumer representation in communications. I was employed by The Cairns Institute at James Cook University under the supervision of Prof Allan Dale for the duration of the project. I also received support and guidance from Associate Professor Michael Dezuanni from the Digital Media Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology.

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