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Rural online boom coming...when?

WITH all the talk about how the Internet and electronic commerce will boost social and economic opportunities for Western Austra-lians in rural areas, the question on many people’s lips is: “when?”.

Peel Development Commission regional development officer Greg Williams said bringing technology to the country was one of the highest priorities on the WA Government’s agenda.

“Even so, this is something that will take some time because developing the necessary infrastructure continues to be a costly and time consuming task,” Mr Williams said.

Regional Development Minister Hendy Cowan said the installation of video conferencing facilities throughout WA’s Telecentre Network over the next four years would enable face-to-face meetings between regional residents with common interests.

“Better access to education and training is an immediate benefit from this technology, not only for individuals seeking formal qualifications but also to enable remote area staff to access in-house development,” Mr Cowan said.

“It could also be used for delivering some health, legal and justice services or for personal interviews.

“The technology will also provide new opportunities for residents of regional areas to take part in parliamentary or public inquiries.”

Mr Cowan said the equipment and transmission costs for live video-conferencing had recently fallen dramatically and could continue to do so as a result of competition introduced by the Federal Government’s State-wide Tele-communications Enhancement Program.

The Department of Commerce and Trade will manage the installation of the video-conferencing facilities with support from the Health Department’s Telehealth Program and the Rural Legal Service Telelaw Scheme.

A further $500,000 has been provided through the Federal Government’s Networking the Nation program.

Mr Williams said the Peel Development Commission was among eight regional development commissions currently introducing pilot programs to create new regional ‘online communities’.

“Within Peel, all five local government authorities – the City of Mandurah and Shires of Serpentine, Waroona, Boddington and Murray – now have an online presence,” he said.

“We are now looking at developing a wide area network we can share to save on costs.”

“All other regions will follow suit. Bunbury is certainly heading in that direction.”

The Creating and Sustaining Online Communities 2000 Conference to be held in Mandurah in March will bring online specialists from around the world to discuss how regional information technology strategies are developing.

International guests will include The University of Toledo’s Randy Stoecker and Joe Sweeney of Hong Kong’s Gartner Group.

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