Poor internet access hurts health, education outcomes

Better internet connectivity would have myriad health and education benefits for rural residents, Country Women’s Association of NSW president Annette Turner said.

The association is one advocacy group behind the newly-created Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC).

The coalition was formed to lobby governments and service providers to improve rural service provision, touting the economic benefits of digital innovation in the agricultural sector.

Mrs Turner said greater access to voice-over internet protocols (VOIP) would also improve health outcomes in the bush.

The service could enable remote residents to engage with specialist medical professionals via video calling technology – saving them hours or even days, and thousands of kilometres, of travel.

“It’s a long trip and it’s a couple of days sometimes, and a couple of days to come back,” she said.

“That could be four days that they’re away from the farm or their station.

“And mental health, especially in areas that are isolated, to be able to have contact with family members or a service provider that can help them in times of need – I think that’s vitally important.”

The lack of internet is also impacting students of all ages, Mrs Turner said.

“I’ve heard of people having to terminate their studies because they can’t access the webinars,” she said.

“We have children living in remote areas who have the right to a standard of education.”

The Isolated Children’s Parents Association (ICPA) has also joined the coalition, which advocates long-term public funding for open access mobile network expansion.

“Access, reliability and affordability of service are the most pressing communication issues for our families residing in rural and remote Australia,” ICPA president Wendy Hick said.

“We look forward to contributing to the discussions to ensure families living and working in rural and remote Australia have equity of access to a continuing and appropriate education.”