BIRRR celebrates eight years of advocacy with a new handle, meet @betterbushcomms

IT’S TIME to stop bashing bush internet and instead focus on improving our connectivity, according to rural telecommunications advocacy group Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR).

To celebrate its anniversary the independent, volunteer led organisation has chosen to update its social media handles from @fixbushinternet to @betterbushcomms reflecting the significant improvements made to regional communications infrastructure and services off the back of its continued advocacy.

BIRRR co-founder Kristy Sparrow said she was extremely proud of what the group had achieved over the last eight years.

“What began as a small group focussed on sharing experiences and information to help troubleshoot regional connectivity issues has evolved into a very successful advocacy group with a membership of over 14,000 people,” she said.

“In that time we’ve seen a step change in access to internet and telecommunications in the bush. I’m not saying there aren’t still potholes in the road, but sometimes you have to reflect on what’s been achieved.

“One of the biggest wins for the bush was the delivery and improvement of NBN’s wholesale Sky Muster Plus service, effectively providing unlimited data at good speeds for the majority of the day.

‘It was a game changer for our satellite users, and those who haven’t switched to Plus plans are missing out.”

Mrs Sparrow said she also applauded existing and new private alternative technologies, including wireless internet service providers (WISP) and low-earth-orbit offerings such as Starlink.

“Low Earth Orbit satellites are an emerging technology, which means there are teething issues, cost and some risk involved, but as more offerings come online we should see that market mature,” she said.

Mrs Sparrow said it was time to move away from furphies that you can’t connect in the bush, or that all communication issues boiled down to a need for more infrastructure.

“Frankly the people saying that don’t understand the challenges, or the scope of the problems,” she said.

“We coined the term ‘connectivity literacy’ to describe the issues we see again and again.

“It’s all the things a consumer needs to know to get connected and stay connected, from what technologies are available and how to choose one right through to troubleshooting a connection and where to get help.

“It’s important for all Australians but rural and remote consumers have suffered worse due to isolation, the tyranny of distance and a lack of easy to access support services.

“The Federal Government funding and handover of BIRRR’s troubleshooting services to the Regional Tech Hub was a great first step, and it has freed our volunteers up to concentrate on advocacy and education, a move reflected in our handle change.”

Mrs Sparrow said connectivity literacy differed from digital literacy and they were two separate skills.

“Issues with connectivity literacy could be choosing and installing equipment, how to pick a provider or plan, it’s the nuts and bolts of getting online, something the majority of people actually struggle with,” she said.

“Digital literacy is the ability to navigate various digital platforms and understand, assess and communicate through them. Digital literacy is your ability to use your connection.”

Mrs Sparrow said digital literacy had been well researched and defined, with barriers identified and targeted programs put in place to solve problems, while connective literacy had been overlooked.

“This is a significant barrier to adoption,” she said.

“From our experience it’s an issue across all demographics, a person being a digital native can still face significant hurdles when it comes to getting and staying connected in the home or business, there’s a default where we just want things to work.”

Mrs Sparrow said BIRRR still had a lot to do in terms of advocating for better bush communications.

“Connectivity illiteracy and a lack of a regional connectivity plan and framework has resulted in a patchwork quilt of regional technologies,” she said.

“Consumers, communities and local governments have not been supported or upskilled in getting and staying connected and understanding the intricacies of bush broadband connections.”

Mrs Sparrow said some of the barriers to regional consumers becoming connectivity literate included a lack of independent advice and an industry that was profit driven not result driven.

“There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there, and the narrative that bush broadband is bad doesn’t help,” she said.

“Getting connected or upgrading your connection can be confusing, it involves navigating the patchwork quilt and complex equipment, and there can be significant affordability issues.

“BIRRR will continue to work for better bush internet.”

BIRRR stock image attached.
Suggested Caption: Rosie Alexander connecting from her family’s property in western Queensland.
Photo is available for single use in print or for online story with photo credited to Lisa Alexander Photography, for alternative photos in this series please contact BIRRR.

For media enquiries please contact Kristy Sparrow 0429 853 482

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