First Nations Media Australia (FNMA) 's submission to the Department of Communications and the Arts’ Regional Connectivity Program – discussion paper. As advocates for regional connectivity, particularly in remote Indigenous communities, FNMA see significant potential to achieve social and digital inclusion benefits through the Regional Connectivity Program.
This submission is informed by over 8 years of industry and community consultation about regional and remote connectivity issues. The crossover of infrastructure, digital literacy and access to information between telecommunications and media is significant. For this reason, First Nations Media Australia (formerly the Indigenous Remote Communications Association (IRCA)) was a founding contributor to the Broadband for the Bush Alliance – a collective of 23 organisations focused on remote and regional connectivity within the satellite footprint under NBN - and the annual Broadband for the Bush Forum (up to 2018).
Digital inclusion is recognised as one of the key social justice challenges facing policy makers and communities worldwide. It is about using technology as a channel to improve skills, to enhance quality of life, to drive education, access employment opportunities and promote social and economic wellbeing.4 In 2019, digital inclusion equates to social inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, and is essential to Closing the Gap.
- First Nations Media Australia encourages Government to think beyond agriculture when addressing regional connectivity and consider the positive impact of increased connectivity on arts, media and creative industries possible through the Regional Connectivity Program. First Nations media organisations across the country act as training and skills development hubs, empowering people to move into a range of roles within other sectors (including tourism and resources). Our capacity to carry out this role in regional and remote communities increasingly depends on internet connectivity.
- Full participation in the digital economy for remote and regional communities can be achieved through the rollout of NBN Public Interest premises (PIP) to up to 50 remote communities with populations of more than 50 people, including WiFi setup. Also unmetered access to government and key services and the option to purchase pre-paid vouchers to access other services and information.
- Peak bodies such as First Nations Media Australia and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), Regional Development Australia groups and Remote Indigenous Media Organisations (RIMOs) operating in regional and remote communities can each be considered ‘trusted sources of information’ for the purposes of identifying local telecommunications priorities. Each of these organisations works closely with people facing connectivity barriers resulting in ‘on-ground’ expertise.
- Financial co-contributions should not be required for Indigenous community-driven projects. In these instances, communities contribute to the project through in-kind use of facilities and/or services along with any ongoing operation and maintenance costs. For example, Remote Indigenous Broadcast Services (RIBS) sites have local broadcast towers and facilities where NBN PIP and WiFi equipment can be located. Access and maintenance for these types of facilities should be acknowledged as a contribution to a project.
- In principle First Nations Media support the development of community-led solutions to address systematic barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to encourage partnership arrangements for the benefit of all residents in remote and regional communities. Therefore, FNMA recommend designing the Regional Connectivity Program guidelines to allow for applications that meet community-identified issues in a more holistic manner than a purely technical focus led by telecommunications providers. While technology solutions and associated partnerships with telecommunications providers will be a requirement in many regions, it is not the only barrier to connectivity which needs to be addressed through this program to facilitate full participation in the digital economy. Funding for an Indigenous Digital Inclusion program should be made available within the $60 million funding envelope for the Regional Connectivity Program.