Rural Australians often throw their hands up in the air and give up on finding mobile reception or getting connected to the internet, believing it’s all too hard.
But the old stereotype that reception is always bad in the bush is a major barrier to growing rural economies, a federal parliamentary inquiry has been told.
National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar says the organisation wants to improve public knowledge about new and emerging technology, including satellite services.
“It’s so easy for rural and regional communities to be frustrated and think it’s all too hard: ‘I can’t get connected, I can’t stay connected, I can’t download or upload’,” Mr Mahar told the inquiry into regional mobile infrastructure at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.
“Bridging that gap is a task we should continue to work on because the gains will be huge.
“There are real challenges, but it’s not always as hard as what people think.”
The inquiry is examining the costs and opportunities of co-investment in multi-carrier regional mobile infrastructure, which would allow telecommunications companies to share mobile towers to improve coverage.
In its submission to the inquiry, the federation supported the consideration of multi-carrier infrastructure.
It said a 2021 survey of members found less than five per cent use satellite technology, with most relying on mobile data.
Better access and understanding of mobile and internet services was key to attracting workers and overcoming labour shortages, Mr Mahar said.
“Where we can attract young people to come and work on farms, the most important thing is for them to be connected to their colleagues, family and friends.When that happens, they stay,” he said.
“Productivity and efficiency gains to businesses, as well as the health and and social benefits, will be enormous. It could be a huge benefit to addressing the worker shortage.”
Mr Mahar said the Regional Tech Hub, a government hotline partly run by the federation, can help rural people solve connectivity problems.
The inquiry is due to hold another hearing next Wednesday, with evidence from the regional development department.
(Australian Associated Press)