Around two-thirds of Australia's export earnings come from regional industries such as agriculture, tourism, retail, services and manufacturing.1 Given this critical contribution to Australia’s current and future economic wellbeing, there are sound economic reasons for governments, industry and regional communities to work together to improve telecommunications, data and digital infrastructure in rural Australia. Using data from the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research, the Regional Australia Institute forecasts that the Australian economy as a whole will be better off if the nation sees more balanced population growth. This modelling shows that Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) would be $13.8 billion greater under a scenario of a larger regional population than a ‘business as usual’ population scenario.2
The provision of reliable, affordable and accessible health services is a critical element in supporting the ongoing economic development of rural Australia. Attracting and retaining a rural health workforce is essential to providing a comprehensive rural health service; access to reliable, affordable telecommunications and other digital infrastructure is an important element in overcoming the professional, financial and social barriers to attracting and retaining health professionals to rural Australia.
Broadband and mobile connectivity is an enduring concern across many communities and increasingly crucial to the economic and social wellbeing of Australian regions.3 Further, it is apparent, now more than ever, that connectedness is critical to the accessibility and delivery of individualised and comprehensive healthcare solutions throughout the country. Indeed, the rollout and extension of telehealth services and rebates, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, underscores the importance of digital solutions in overcoming the combined effects of health crises and physical isolation. As noted by the Australian Medical Association, telehealth has become as good as the bandwidth it occupies.4
Connectivity, reliability, accessibility, affordability and digital health literacy remain ongoing barriers to enabling rural communities’ participation in digital health activities. Investment in telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas is known to have the capacity to improve access to health care. However, whether these improvements are actualised is intricately linked to issues around service suitability, reliability and affordability. On these measures, rural Australians continue to face significant disadvantage. Considering these factors, it is unsurprising that rural Australians are, overall, less digitally connected and more heavily reliant on outdated technologies...