Farm Tender

Better connectivity because of community volunteers

By Robbie Sefton - Managing Director, Seftons | Advocate for rural, regional and remote Australia | Strategic Advisor | Commentator | Board Member

From little things big things grow.

And there’s no better living example of this saying than the incredible results achieved by the Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) group – founded by two young women from the bush who wanted to fix a problem. A big problem.

What started as determined team of volunteers six years ago has now evolved into a professional service to help boost digital connectivity for regional Australians; to be managed by the National Farmers’ Federation and backed by Federal Government funding.

The BIRRR Facebook group was created in October 2014 – founded by volunteers, Kylie Stretton and Kristy Sparrow after they both noticed unexplained, excessive usage on their mobile broadband data.

“As Kristy struggled to deal with educating her children (via distance education) and both women dealt with very limited internet to run their businesses, they began to respond to media enquiries – and as others throughout rural Australia heard of the group and joined, it began to grow quickly,” the BIRRR website says.

To put it quite simply, though no doubt many issues were highly technical and complex, their voluntary service has been a prime problem-solving hub to support those dealing with the many frustrations of substandard internet services and mobile phone connectivity.

But rather than using social media as an echo chamber to vent anger without offering solutions, these highly motivated women wanted to make a real difference and offer answers.

This statement on BIRRR’s home page typifies their steely motivation and big picture focus.

“We work with contacts in NBN, Telstra and other service providers, as well as government departments and will continue to advocate and lobby for #betterbushcomms until the broadband and communication needs of rural Australians are met.”

And what a difference they’ve made.

BIRRR will now work with the NFF to fully develop this digital hub’s capacity with appropriate resourcing and staff, to ensure it maintains momentum and continues delivering results.

This work is being funded via the Federal Government’s $220 million Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package; resulting from recommendations in the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review that was Chaired by former Liberal Senator Sean Edwards, which Kylie Stretton and I also participated in.

“We’ve spent tens of thousands of hours on troubleshooting and we’ve gained a lot of skills and experience in the space, and as a group of volunteers we just couldn’t continue the large volume of work required,” Ms Sparrow said in a recent media interview.[R1]

This shows when committed people from the bush work with government decision-makers and corporate stakeholders, to clearly articulate the issues they are facing, and put forward pragmatic solutions, it can inspire real action and change.

The BIRRR volunteer team deserve to be thoroughly congratulated for their inspiring journey and not accepting second-best when it comes to connectivity and what is a truly essential service for those of us living and working in the bush. Good on you girls, great and gutsy work!

Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains, and as managing director of national marketing communications company Seftons.

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