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Getting in touch with the bush

SUCCESSIVE governments, both state and federal, have been on the receiving end of vitriolic public criticism over the decline in levels of service to rural areas.

But while the banks continue to leave town and it still takes Telstra a week to repair a phone line, it seems the State Government is determined to get rural communities online and up to speed.

Various ministers in the Gallop Government recently announced initiatives that it is hoped will bridge the information divide between town and country.

Regional Development Minister Tom Stephens is behind a push to install coin-operated Internet booths in rural communities with populations of more than 200. Installation of up to 100 booths is planned during the next three years throughout the State.

Funding for the program has come from the Federal Government’s ‘Networking the Nation’ strategy.

“The supply and installation will not cost anything. However, the units will operate on a user-pays basis,” Mr Stephens said.

“The booths will be best suited in libraries, shire offices, community centres and even roadhouses.”

The initiative follows a program to take laptops into the bush to educate farmers about the online landscape.

Launched by WA Education Minister Alan Carpenter, the Rural Internet Training Alliance will visit 30 country towns over the next six months.

Farmers will be given intensive one-day training sessions.

Mr Carpenter believes the Internet could overcome feelings of isolation and could help with farm business administration.

“Skilful use of the Internet can bring huge dividends to farmers,” Mr Carpenter said.

“Research shows 42 per cent of farmers have computers and on-farm Internet access. However, a lack of experience and skills often prevents them from using the technology.”

He said benefits to farmers using the Internet included Internet banking, researching new farm practices and online shopping for competitive grain and fertiliser prices.

Private enterprise also is targeting the bush to introduce online services. In Pinjarra today, e-span Solutions is today launching the first of several telecottages.

Known as a Modular Interactive Telecommuni-cations Environment (MITE), the transportable buildings incorporate Westlink satellite TV, two-way videoconferencing and separate computer and office rooms.

e-span Solutions director Bill McGinnis said MITE’s focus was to give rural or isolated communities access to high level IT and communications equipment.

“MITEs can be integrated with existing facilities provided by schools, TAFEs and Aboriginal organisations,” he said.

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