Broadband and the Birdsville link

What do residents of Skennars Head and South Ballina have in common with those living in remote areas such as Birdsville?

Not much, you would think.

But there is one major link those places have, despite those on the coast living in an area with all the trappings of a modern lifestyle, as opposed to the harsher realities of life in outback towns such as Birdsville — neither of them has access to Broadband.

Two comments posted on Ballina Info this week were:

Tobin of South Ballina: “We live in South Ballina and ‘as the crow flies’ we are less than one kilometre from the Ballina CBD. I have a small business and my partner is a student. We are desperate for Broadband and it is affecting my business and my partner’s study by not having access to it. Telstra misleads with its cosy ads about helping regional Australians. We may have to leave the area to compete with city folk and this is a disgrace.”

Alan of Skennars Head wrote: “I have moved to Skennars Head between Ballina and Lennox Head. After talking to Optus my carrier, Telstra (frequently) both local Federal Members Offices and Telecommunications Ombudsman I still cannot get Broadband. I live 4.6k from nearest exchange — Broadband only extends 3.8k from the exchange. I live near a Catholic Primary School and a Catholic High School — why can’t I get Broadband?? Northern Star 23/1/07 had article on Telstra Countrywide extending Broadband on the Northern Rivers — when I enquired they said my area was not on current or proposed projects for the area. Have applied for info regarding Wireless Broadband under this scheme but have not heard back anything. Talk about frustrating!!!”

And the Birdsville link? This Australian Associated Press report was on The Australian’s website on Friday:

A failure to install Broadband in remote Australia could signal the demise of iconic events like the Birdsville Races, an event organiser has warned.

Ray Maguire, an event producer based on the Gold Coast, said his industry experience was that people were becoming less likely to visit a destination if they were unable to easily access the outside world while they were there.

“I have spoken to people at events like the Gympie Muster and Tamworth (Country Music Festival) and if they can’t get in touch with the grandkids each day or jump on the internet and research the next place they’re going, they’re simply not going to go to that place,” Mr Maguire said.

“It’s also important for sponsors of events to be able to stream coverage to the outside world.

“Birdsville needs broadband, or events like the races could be finished.”

Mr Maguire spoke to the Birdsville community last night during a visit by Telstra executives to the remote southwestern corner of Queensland.

The executives discussed the telecommunications needs of residents during a two-day trip that also took them to Bedourie, which is still hemmed in by recent floodwaters, and Hebel on the NSW-Queensland border.

Telstra is pushing the Federal Government for $600 million in funding available under the Broadband Connect program to extend infrastructure that would deliver high-speed fixed ADSL internet access to remote communities.

“Telstra’s broadband proposal is the largest geographical fixed Broadband development in Australian history that would expand Broadband to about 95 per cent of the population,” Telstra public policy managing director Phil Burgess said.

Telstra Countrywide executive director Don Pinel said the proposition would end the “digital divide” for many communities.

“If our bid is successful more than 350km of optical fibre will be installed between the townships of Boulia and Birdsville at a cost of more than $7 million to provide the necessary infrastructure to provide fixed broadband services to the town,” he said.

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