Missing out: project tackles northern Australia communications

A new consortium of research, business and industry partners will spend the next 12 months investigating how to create more affordable digital networks across northern Australia and building a five-year road map to give regional areas better internet and telecommunications access.

The project has been funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) and is led by QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) to help address a digital divide that sees more than 2.5 million Australians still not online.

It aims to pave the way for new investment in communications infrastructure and ‘digital inclusion’ programs, and help improve the profitability and competitiveness of farmers and producers in the north.

CRCNA Chair Sheriden Morris said digital inclusion – which comprises access, affordability and digital ability – was essential for economic prosperity, social inclusion and community cohesiveness.

“We know northern Australians, particularly those living in north-west and far-north Queensland, the Northern Territory and rural and remote areas of Western Australia, are missing out on the benefits of being connected to technology or lack the skills and means to access the sorts of technology many Australians living in cities, and some larger regional centres, take for granted,” she said.

Farmers in North Qld, the NT, and WA are among the project’s stakeholders.

“Given Australia’s digital economy is estimated to be worth $139 billion by 2020, digital inclusion is an essential component of the task of developing northern Australia.”

Researchers will spend the next year working with industry and community stakeholders, including all levels of government, telcos, regional development associations, agricultural organisations, education service providers, health and human services organisations and Indigenous groups.

Assoc Prof Michael Dezuanni.

Associate Professor Michael Dezuanni from QUT’s DMRC said conversations, feedback and data from these groups would help researchers devise a five-year road map for digital inclusion research, practice and policy development for northern Australia.

“We expect our research will help identify opportunities for efficiencies across key agricultural supply chains and help drive investment in digital technologies which are affordable, accessible and user-friendly for people living and working across the north,” he said.

The Northern Australian Communication Analysis Project will mobilise a consortium of research, business and industry partners including QUT, Premise, James Cook University, Charles Darwin University, the Centre for Appropriate Technology Ltd and Regional Development Australia Northern Territory.

Together, they will identify barriers and provide solutions to enhance telecommunications and internet connectivity, as well as digital inclusion more broadly.

“The final Directions Paper will be a key catalyst in terms of influencing future investment and policy planning across the digital and communication infrastructure landscape,” Associate Professor Dezuanni said.

The final report is due mid-2020.

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