Still the Silent Land
A recent internet usage survey, by a Melbourne University in 3 Central Australian Aboriginal communities highlighted the size of the problem that National Broadband Network (NBN) has in providing high speed broadband services in remote Australia.
It comes as no surprise for the inhabitants in remote Australia, that communication services are one of many services that are lacking. Media services are well behind the other more important services of health, education, land, and housing.
This is regardless that media is considered an essential service and a right under United Nations Charters. Blind Freddie can tell you that, “we don’t need a University survey to tell us what we already know”. The work done by the university is commendable but will it make any difference to the situation. History tells us that service delivery in remote towns and communities in remote Australia takes on all the characteristics of a glacier.
There are large gaps in radio services in most remote communities and homelands, not just in remote Australia but Western NSW, and Northern Victoria. Radio services are a basic need, for remote people purely for emergency services.
The spending of millions on broadband is a “diversion from the real need”. The basic building block of communications in the bush is radio services; this has been largely ignored by governments for over 40 years service providers have been starved for funds over a long period.
A report titled “Out of the silent land” A Federal Government task force report by Eric Wilmot published in 1984 recommended that basic satellite receiving and re-transmission equipment be installed into remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities throughout Australia. The project came to be known as, Broadcasting Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme, or BRACS
The “scheme” only a bureaucrat could dream up a title like with such a name as “scheme”. and it is reflected on the service and the complete lack of funds that went into it, ATSIC came along and called it a program and it has remained a program ever since, with no real commitment from government to take account of the recommendations or concerns of Aboriginal people, that the service was meant to connect.
Australia’s Indigenous peoples were concerned that the introduction of modern technology would spread western style monoculture, undermine traditional values, and have a detrimental effect in communities.
In order to combat a slow destruction of cultural tradition and values, communities requested resources to preserve, protect, and promote Indigenous languages and cultures by, broadcasting radio language programs locally and produce cultural video material of their own stories for replay and archiving.
Most communities that were rolled out have a low powered 10 watt FM service and if the wind is blowing the wrong way you won’t hear it, or if it is TV you won’t see it because of the distortion. All communities are reliant on satellite for most of their programming. They call it satellite dreaming out bush. Once you leave the community or small town, you enter the silent land again for some dependent where you are it could hundreds of Kilometres.
The answer for radio is to think seriously about Digital AM services which will give coverage to everyone. For TV the VAST satellite is a good option giving up to 17 free services to communities, after all you can’t watch TV in the car we have to wait a bit longer for that.
And now along comes NBN, they really don’t want to be there with the real deal of cable, they have come up with the alternate satellite and wireless combination. There is some merit in their plans, as it will give a useable service to isolated parents, station owners, and those aboriginal people who can afford the infrastructure and the cable bill every month and depending on the package it could be from $90 to $160.
Everyone and their dog in remote Australia are telling the Government that broadband satellite is not the answer. Satellite raises too many issues that remain unresolved. I was talking to an old mate who is a doctor, he worked out of the Territory for years, and he was so frustrated by the problems with video conferencing over satellite that he stopped using it, reverting back to phone and fax.
If someone comes along and solves Einstein’s theories and can deliver a signal faster than the speed of light then we will always have the problem of latency. Latency is when you are waiting for the pictures and the voice to catch up. We have all seen it as it is being used more and more by media broadcasters using a range of satellite services like skype, you quickly flick to another channel, when you are faced with it.
This debate has a long way to go. If it was anything like the Wilmot Report that brought some services to remote communities, then the change will take another 50 years or longer.
If communities want fast broadband services and not have to deal with satellite or wireless they will have to take it on themselves. In many parts of the country fibre optic cable has been laid by Telstra. The recent deal to use that infrastructure has opened up prospects for remote communities to roll out their own networks as an enterprise and create some employment.
If the cable runs past the community like it does in quite a lot of communities then the opportunity arises for the community to install infrastructure communities themselves and create a good business enterprise.
Now that is a good project for a university, go to it guys and help us find the community and do a business model,