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From little things big things grow.

19 Aug

‘From little things big things grow’ is a song written by Kev Carmody and recorded by Paul Kelly. It provides inspiration and hope that one day the injustice will end and the divide between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians will cease to exist. Many a small step has been taken in Australia’s past towards improvement. However, we still have a long way to go.

The focus of this blogpost is digital environments and the area pertaining to Knowledge Societies and the Information Age that leads the investigation. For more information the Unesco World Report: Towards Knowledge Societies, provides the background and outlines the pertinent issues, including defining the multifaceted-nature of the digital divide (p. 30)

The NBN comes with the premise and promise that broadband, at speeds of 100Mbps, would be delivered to 90% of Australian homes as Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) with the remaining 10% receiving 12Mbps via a combination of next-generation-wireless and satellite, Rennie et.al (2010, pg 53). However, for the FTTP to be deployed, the towns would need to consist of a population of 1000 people or more. This is because of economic viability and is not unlike examples overseas as Malecki (2003) outlines in relation to broadband in rural America. Herein lies the conundrum when one considers the digital divide in Australia, further compounded by the infrastructure divide as outlined by Rennie et.al(2010). and as Rennie et el. points out the divide is widest ‘between people living in remote indigenous communities and other Australians’ (McCallum & Papandrea 2009) as cited in Rennie et.al(2010 p. 52) In 2009, the National Broadband Network (NBN) was announced by Senator Stephen Conroy as ‘the single largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australian history’ and costed at $43 billion, as cited in Rennie et.al (2010). However, as Morgan (2010) points out the cost will be much higher especially when you factor in the extra $20 billion dollars that Telstra will receive as compensation and to ensure cooperation over the eight to ten years it will take to build the infrastructure.

Rennie et.al(2010) outlines the following statistics relating to Internet use and access based on 2006 ABS data.

  • 14% of indigenous people in the combined remote and very remote subdivisions have access to the internet at home, compared to 63% of the non-Indigenous population.
  • In relation to the infrastructure divide, 97.8% of Indigenous people in the central Northern Territory statistical subdivision outside Alice Springs where communities number up to 600 residents had no access to the internet at home.
  • As a contrast 43% of non-Indigenous residents in the central Northern Territory statistical subdivision had access to the internet at home.

Adding further to this significant disparity and inequity is, Telstra being the sole provider for wireless broadband in much of central Australia and according to Telstra their wireless broadband reaches 99% of the Australian population, as cited in Rennie et. al (2010). However, as Rennie et.al. points out,  based the ABS 2006 statistics, the Indigenous population living in very remote parts of Australia makes up 0.54% of the total population. This same group that forms part of the 1% that Telstra currently does not reach and as Unesco (2005) highlights “The geography of those connected to the internet obviously corresponds to that of infrastructure” Furthermore, “The most worrying fact is the gap seems to continue to grow” (pg. 31)

Satistics aside, a markedly different policy position is being undertaken for remote indigenous communities in Australia compared to mainstream communities in regards to broadband access with the focus on Community Access centres as opposed to broadband to the home or FTTP.  The Unesco report (2005, pp. 37-39 ) draws attention to Community Multimedia Centres as being a very successful approach to narrowing the divide and consisting of a mix of ‘old’ and ‘new’ technologies.

Unesco (2005, pg. 20) states “knowledge is a potent tool in the fight against poverty, as long as that fight is not limited to building infrastructures, launching micro-projects (whose sustainability largely depends on outside financing on a case-by-case basis”. However, as Rennie et.al (2010) outlines, it is the issues around sustainability of the Community Access Centres that is of most concern as since 1997 with the Networking the Nation (NTN), there have been many projects launched  and funded by the partial sell-off of Telstra such as The Cape York Digital Network that provides internet facilities for 16 communities (pg. 54). However, there has been no committed recurrent funding. Thereby, the Government has adopted the approach of ‘micro-projects’ with the resultant problems that follow as detailed in Rennie et.al.(2010) including projects ceasing to operate, issues with maintenence and issues with continual staffing.

Since 2008, the Prime Minister at the time, Kevin Rudd made a commitment to Closing the Gap in his National Apology to the Stolen Generations aiming to improve Health, education, life expectancy and employment via cooperation between Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG 2008). Here is the the weblink to the COAG Reform Council. Following is Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations.

As Rennie et. al.(2010) outlines “In July 2009, COAG agreed to commit $6.96 million to remote Indigenous public internet access, including establishing facilities in communities where there is limited or no public access, as well as maintenence and support of facilities (commencing 2011/12) and training in basic computer and internet use for up to 60 communities a year.”

However, as a significant feature of the Closing the Gap strategy  is concentrating the services and resources in fewer localties with the aim of enticing people to locations to access better services including schooling and jobs, issues arise around concepts “concerning homelands, belonging, safety and health’ Rennie et.al. (2010, pg 55)

This clip is an example presenting Community Access Centres from the Dot Com Mob. The hope presented in the following clip is inspiring. ‘From little things big things grow’.

Malecki, E.J. (2003), Digital Development in rural areas: potentials and pitfalls, Journal of Rural Studies, 19, 201-204.

Morgan, K. (2010), Hollow Victory, Dissent, No. 33, 55-57.

Rennie, E., Crouch, A., Thomas, J. & Taylor, P. (2010) Beyond Public Access? Reconsidering Broadband for Remote Indigenous communities, Communications, Politics & Culture, 43(1), 48-69.

Unesco World Report (2005), Towards Knowledge Societies, Unesco Publishing, retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/resources/publications-and-communication-materials/publications/full-list/towards-knowledge-societies-unesco-world-report/

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