Determined to fix outback internet

Rural Australia’s internet problems will be put under the microscope by a James Cook University PhD student who started his own business to help solve connectivity problems in the bush.

William Harrington grew up on a remote family farm in Queensland, bedevilled by slow or non-existent internet.

“The problem became so bad that I was forced to diversify the farming business by starting an internet service provider company simply to purchase more internet capacity,” said Mr Harrington.

He completed a degree in computer systems engineering at JCU and is now about to take up a Fulbright scholarship to study how the rural connectivity problem is addressed in the United States and learn about their solutions to the problem.

“My aim is to provide scientific data and tools that can be used by policy and decision makers to improve internet connectivity in rural and remote areas for farmers and residents alike. Internet connectivity has become critical to the operation of farms and to the social lives of people in rural and remote areas,” said Mr Harrington.

He said connectivity options in outback Australia are very limited.

“My study is borne out of these frustrations and of trying to run a business under these circumstances and as a parent trying to educate my own children.”

He said technological innovation will only be possible where good internet connectivity is available, and this remains a challenge in many areas of rural USA and Australia.

“It reaches across all agricultural sectors, with cropping production systems increasingly relying on connectivity between farm machinery through to livestock systems, which are starting to see the emergence of on-animal monitoring systems. These technologies require some form of connectivity to move data and enable better decision making,” said Mr Harrington.

He said despite the rollout of the NBN, regional areas are continuing to be held back.

“Due to the costs of providing these services, there are few such internet providers in rural and remote Australia. Unlike the USA, here, there is little government support for this type of business, and without good studies and data the situation will never improve,” he said.

Mr Harrington will travel to Ohio State University this year or in 2022 for four months.

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