21 Apr 2015

Health-tech alliance to boost rural broadband

2:16 pm on 21 April 2015

The ongoing frustration that rural communities are having in getting decent broadband coverage has led to the Rural Health Alliance joining forces with the Telecommunications Users Group, TUANZ, to see if they can get more progress in closing the gaps.

Internet cables

Photo: 123RF

The Government is putting an additional $100 million into expanding coverage in rural areas, under its Rural Broad-band Initiative, as well as $50 million to improve mobile coverage in black spot areas.

But the chief executive of the Rural Health Alliance Michelle Thompson said even in areas that now have broadband coverage, it was not always able to cope with today's health service needs.

"One of the biggest challenges facing rural communities is accessing health services and good, reliable connectivity opens the doors to so many other options.

"For example, a consultation; tele-medicine, tele-health, video consultations, they take a lot of band width. RBI downloads speeds of about five megabits.

"To actually have a decent video consultation with your GP or health professional, we would need speeds of about 50MB download. We're miles away from that, but that would improve access to services greatly.

"It's also really important for after-houses services and another issue that faces our rural communities, in particular our farming families, is the rate of depression and suicide and that's a lot to do with being isolated.

"So anything that we can do to minimise that sense of isolation, like really good access to internet and social media and cell-phone coverage, would go greatly towards improving that."

The Rural Health Alliance is running a symposium with the Telecommunications Users Association on the issue of rural broadband coverage next month.

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