Despite the announcement overnight of the National Broadband Network’s (NBN) interim satellite services, the NSW Farmers Federation has cast doubt over the extent to which these will be adopted by regional and rural Australians.
According to Federation spokesperson, David Lee, the new services will not be taken up by some members of the organisation without targeted education programs which outline improvements to communication and access to government services.
Speaking at an Australian Computer Society (ACS) forum in Sydney this week, Lee said most of the federation’s 10,000 members were excited by the possibilities of the NBN but the 40 regional educational digital hubs that will receive NBN services first would be of little use.
The education hubs are designed to train Australians about accessing government services online over the next three years. According to Lee, 40 hubs were not sufficient and the education programs would need to be extended to more areas in the future.
"Will farmers drive hours to attend a lesson on emails and would they be aware that 20 minutes spent at a [digital] hub could save them 30 minutes in listening to government hold music on the phone?," Lee said.
"In my experience, a better method could be a stall at an agricultural field day placing these learning opportunities where the farming community is actively open to learning."
Lee said the federation would like to see a program similar to the one running since 2008 aimed at senior citizens called the Broadband for Seniors program.
Citing figures from the Broadband for Seniors program dating from January 2011, Lee said that since the launch of the program some 94,000 face-to-face training sessions have been delivered in addition to more than 40,000 online sessions.
"Over 84 per cent of elderly participants reported improved computer skills and were now using social networking sites such as Twitter," Lee said.
He said education was essential as some members of the rural community were still sceptical about the perceived benefits of the internet due to many years of slow internet speeds or lack of access.
"Some farmers have indicated that they do not have time or interest to go online and one member in Wagga Wagga said he did not understand why people were getting so excited about receiving emails a little bit faster," Lee said.
Many members also had issues with the state and federal government strategy to move to online services, mainly because of current slow speeds.
"A common compliant members have is with the NSW Roads and Traffic authority because they have to print registration stickers off the internet.
To city dwellers it is no problem but it is seen as an inconvenience because of the slow speeds they experience trying to do this," Lee said.
However, he pointed out that this was not the view of most farmers, many of whom were technology savvy and open to new ideas that made their working lives easier.
"Many members strongly support the NBN as they see guaranteed speeds and universal wholesale pricing as their ticket out of a lifetime of substandard service," Lee said.
He added that the Federal Government must take some responsibility for more targeted NBN education programs as it moved to put more services, such as those provide by Centrelink, online.
"People need to be willing and able to use those Internet services or they will get left behind," Lee said.
The National Farmers Federation was contacted for additional comment by Computerworld Australia but has not responded.
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