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Remote Community Access to Technology

Most of us have probably had these complaints recently:

· My internet is so slow! Everyone in the neighbourhood must be streaming movies

· This computer is not running as good as it should. Might be time to upgrade

· Or your kids might complain that the wi-fi is not working because they can’t play video games online with their friends

The struggle is real for the majority of Australians when it comes to having our technology operating in the way we want it to. Having lived so long with technology it’s hard to think about life/work without it. Quality, fast wi-fi almost feels like it should be a human right.

If I need to speak with my GP for anything I can just call them up. All my social medias are easily accessible. The phone signal coverage is as you would expect for an Australian capital city, although it would be nice if our telecommunications bills were a little smaller. My youngest has been studying online ever since their university cancelled face to face learning. We’ve worked non-stop this year, since Ben and I have set ourselves up to be able to work from pretty much anywhere.

When we speak with people we’ve worked with during the past couple of years, who live in remote locations, they have a very different story. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities acted quickly and decisively to close during the very start of the Covid-19 pandemic. However they don’t have the same access to technology and telecommunications that we take for granted. Nearly all of the conveniences, or inconveniences depending on your view point, I described in the paragraph above are not available in their Communities.

It sometimes appears that their access to, and uptake of, technology is measured using the standards and expectations of people who live in larger towns and cities. There are many arguments to be had about bandwidth, the NBN, satellites, and fibre to the node, but when you hear of people standing on the roof of a vehicle and throwing their phone in the air numerous times to send/receive a txt message it shows you exactly where the edge of the digital divide is.

One Community we work with does offer two free wi-fi hotspots provided by the regional Council… one hotspot is in front of the courthouse, while the other is outside the police station. Their data usage each month is miniscule.

As we outlined in last week’s article, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in remote Communities are more likely to access technology and the internet via their mobile phones. While mobile data plans have gotten better this is still an expensive and difficult way to use the internet, and exceptionally difficult to use for something like studying a short course.

Telehealth capabilities would be brilliant if they were easily accessible in these Communities during this time. To be honest telehealth capabilities would probably be brilliant anytime as the travel time, distance, and costs add up if you live 5 hours away from the nearest comprehensive health service or specialist.

This video showing how to use a mobile phone for an iridology consult is over 7 years old! Surely we could do better now that our phones have 12 megapixel cameras. Wearable technology like fitness bracelets could be repurposed to monitor and collect health data to share with your GP. Garmin has a developer portal to help people with the right ideas and skills to do exactly this. Hmm… if only people close to this problem had the opportunity to help their Communities build their own solutions.

Education opportunities could be accessed where they have previously, and tbh currently, been unheard of let alone unavailable.

Through the Blak Tek Project we are working to turn this situation around. While we’re not an internet service provider or NBN installer, there are activities and projects we can partner with Communities to develop and implement. Showing our Mob in remote Communities what is possible, and providing opportunities for them to develop the skills to realise the possible, opens them up to innovating and achieving what we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

We’ve already witnessed how quickly our Mob process the capabilities of technology and come back to us with the innovation and excellence we know exists in Communities. Through the precursor to the Blak Tek Project we were amazed at the speed at which the participant’s thinking evolved, to the point where they were pitching apps and business ideas by the end of week one.

The opportunities before us to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in remote Communities to build the change they want is what gets us up in the morning. Even if it is just to put on our trackpants and uggies to head to the home office.

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