ACCAN is deeply concerned about the inadequacy of existing government programs supporting improved communications infrastructure in remote Indigenous communities (RICs). These communities are among the most disadvantaged and digitally disengaged in the country.

The pre-existing digital divide has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown. While there has been an accelerated take up of digital services such as videoconferencing, remote server access, and telehealth for those with access and skills, communities that are disconnected are at a much greater disadvantage at this time. Very few remote Indigenous people have the option of home schooling, working from home, or accessing basic services online. Most RICs have restricted all non-essential movement due to the high risks associated with COVID infection, increasing the need for remote access to services, including health, education, Centrelink, MyGov, justice, banking and so on. However, with an estimated 30% of remote and very remote Indigenous people without household access to telephony or internet, and many Shire/Council offices, schools and other service centres closed, some essential services have not been available to many remote Indigenous people.

In June 2020, ACCAN commissioned Dr Daniel Featherstone to undertake a review of programs that support telecommunications and internet access in RICs, and any gaps or outstanding needs identified by community stakeholders.

The report is structured in two parts. Part A of this report provides a summary of previous and existing programs for improved communications infrastructure in RICs, including government and private sector initiatives, building upon existing ACCAN research. It also includes an estimate of the funds spent in the last 5 years on Indigenous communications nationwide.

Part B provides an overview of the context and communications ecology of RICs, existing data collection and research identifying needs or gaps, and unmet communications needs of remote communities identified through community consultation.

The report concludes with a summary of the effectiveness and gaps within current government and external investment in improving digital inclusion of RICs. It provides a brief analysis of the gaps within current programs and raises the potential impact of emerging technologies. This paper is not a definitive summary of all community needs. Rather, it is intended to promote dialogue with government agencies, telecommunications providers and First Nations communities about addressing unmet connectivity and access needs.

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