NATIONWIDE: This map shows participant-supplied addressees for the mobile broadband and satellite internet connection from BIRRR, regional access survey.
NATIONWIDE: This map shows participant-supplied addressees for the mobile broadband and satellite internet connection from BIRRR, regional access survey. Contributed

Survey lifts lid on net misery

TO UPDATE her phone, Alpha grazier Kristy Sparrow would stand out the front of her local Target to catch some readily available wifi.

Though the mother-of-two, and founder of the Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia Facebook page said she was one of the lucky ones.

This week, results from the nationwide BIRRR Regional Internet Access Survey were released, revealing the true extent of the #datadrought.

The in-depth survey, conducted through the Facebook page, found that rural, regional and remote Australians were severely disadvantaged in terms of access, speeds, cost and reliability of their internet connections.

Statistics revealed that some rural, regional and remote Australians were paying up to $20 per gigabyte of data on mobile broadband and up to $70/GB on satellite broadband.

It also illustrated, that even with the onset of NBN's Sky Muster - that data growth would soon outgrow the NBN Fair Use Policy which would put 75GB/month peak use data limits on customers.

With the rollout of Skymuster kicking off last week, Kristy was among the first to have the technology installed, but is sceptical of the long-term benefits.

"I started the Facebook page because I was struggling to educate my twins at home and I wondered if other people were having this problem," she said.

The public Facebook group now has more than 6500 members, and the survey, conducted up until the end of January with the help of James Cook University, reflects the struggles of more than 2000 internet users from across the country.

"Currently internet connectivity does not meet the educational, business, health and welfare needs of regional Australians. Peak Data of 75GB on NBN satellite will not future-proof Australia's data needs. Nor will it end the #datadrought. The Long Term Satellite is not a long term solution for rural, regional and remote users of the internet," Kristy said.

"With much of the data available on plans currently being offered to customers looking to use Sky Muster only accessible between 1am and 7am, it is simply not 'user friendly.

"People are clearly worried that as more and more activities become data hungry, current and proposed plans will be unable to handle the extra load. We already know data use growth is a continuing upward trend: The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports the average broadband downloads grew more than 33% from December 2013 to December 2014."

This same ABS report showed that, on average, each Australian household has eight internet-connected devices.

"Already many bush connections cannot support that load, and there is increasing concern that data limits announced for Sky Muster by NBN will simply not be sufficient into the future," Kristy said.

AgForce vice-president and telecommunications committee chair Georgie Somerset said the Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) Regional Internet Access Survey laid bare the #datadrought confronting rural, regional and remote Australians.

"Having access to fast, reliable and affordable mobile phone and internet services is just so important for business, and to be able to keep in touch with family and friends," she said.

"Access to the internet is no longer an optional extra; it's an essential part of everyday life for almost all Australians.

"It's disappointing there wasn't more money to extend and enhance the Federal Government's well-received mobile phone black spot program in this week's Budget, because reliable mobile regional telecommunications infrastructure is now as vital as good road and water infrastructure.

"The solutions to the data drought will require all levels of government to collaborate with the telecommunications industry on infrastructure investment.

"For example, increased investment in fixed wireless roll-out would also enable local wifi platforms.

"These wifi platforms can then support businesses and education in rural and regional Queensland with high speed, reliable and affordable data.

"The BIRRR survey confirms that regional Australia's data and connectivity needs are a long way from being met by current policies and plans."

Survey highlights

- Internet in RRR Australia is mainly used for business.

- 88% of RRR respondents stated current data did not meet their needs.

- Mobile broadband costs those surveyed an average of $9.27 per GB, with some consumers paying up to $20 per GB.

- Satellite broadband costs an average of $15.96 per GB, with some consumers paying up to $70 per GB.

- 63% of respondents are shaped more than six times per year, with more than 40% being shaped every month.

- 74% of mobile broadband users and 89% of satellite users have download speeds under 5Mbps.

- 72% of mobile broadband users had to purchase extra equipment at their own cost, usually between $1000 - $2000.

- 73% respondents do not have reliable mobile coverage.

- 41% said their address would not register on the NBN database.

- 65% of people not confident that they are aware of their NBN options.

- 92% gave a score of six or above indicating that they would recommend the BIRRR to friends and family.


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