Australian Communications Consumer Action Network

Internet in remote Indigenous communities

In late November ACCAN’s Indigenous policy officer, Michael Charlton, took part in a fieldtrip to central Australia as part of the ongoing Home Internet for Remote Indigenous Communities project.

The project aims to assess the reasons for low internet take-up and use by people living in remote Indigenous communities; to determine the needs of remote Indigenous communities in regard to home internet use (including training, affordability, online service delivery, and technology and maintenance); and provide advice through empirical research that will guide policy makers, funding bodies and service providers.

Michael’s companions on the fieldtrip were Andrew Crouch from the Centre of Appropriate Technology (CAT), Alyson Wright from the Central Land Council (CLC) and Eleanor Hogan from the Swinburne University of Technology.

The communities 

The first community visited was Mungalawurru, located within the Karlantijpa North Aboriginal Land Trust. Mungalawurru has around 22 permanent residents, with power being provided to the community through a solar power initiative from Cat's Bushlight program. At Mungalawurru the team conducted surveys with about six community members who used the computers frequently to determine what sites they visited most, whether people feel their digital literacy is improving, what values and attitudes the community attaches to ICT, and whether people would like to have their own internet subscription after the project is finished. The team also did some training in email, skype, and online shopping, as well as installed a new printer at one of the residences and gave some training on how to scan and email documents – extremely useful for people living in such remote areas.

The team then visited Imangara. Imangara is the largest of the three communities taking part in the project with a permanent residency of around 90-100 people. The community sits near the Murray Downs pastoral station and has a women’s centre, a school and access to a shop which is located about one kilometre from the community. Internet in the community is provided by two satellite dishes positioned so that houses at either end of the community have good access. As well as conducting surveys, two broken printers were replaced and team members provided some training for community members.

 

Michelle and Linda using Skype

Two-way communications

The fieldtrips as part of the Home Internet Project are beneficial for both the researchers and the communities. The research team is able to assess individuals’ progress in using ICT and gain insight into what factors are shaping people’s use of the computers and internet.

For the community, the visits offer a chance to ask questions, get some additional training, have maintenance issues addressed, and receive updates on the project. In both communities the computers and the internet are widely used. Children use them to play maths and reading games, though there appears to be no risk as yet of the kids being glued to the screen all day. For the adults, computer skills vary from user to user with the younger adults appearing more confident and using a wider range of applications. Internet banking and Centrelink online services are the most widely used sites and offer residents the opportunity to substantially save time and money.

Ongoing internet access

The project funding is due to finish in September 2013, meaning participants will be left with computer facilities but no internet connection unless they decide to sign up for their connection, either on a community or individual basis. From the surveys that were conducted, it appears likely that around half of the participants will use their own funds to continue accessing the internet from their communities when the project finishes, highlighting the important role the internet now plays in people’s lives.

Background

Identifying communities to take part in the project was based on distance from the towns of Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, capacity, size and prior working relationships. The three communities invited to take part in the project were Mungalawurru (70km from Tennant Creek), Kwale Kwale (40 km from Alice Springs) and Imangara (about 200km from Tennant Creek), all of which are considered small remote Indigenous communities,(outstations, or homelands).

The Home Internet Project was initially supported by the 2010 round of the ACCAN Grants Scheme. In 2011, the project was awarded three years funding through the Australian Research Council (ARC). ACCAN continues to make a financial contribution to the project.