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 EXPLORING the ongoing opportunities of working remotely is among the recommendations stemming from a region-wide connectivity survey

The Wimmera Development Association-lead survey of mobile and home internet connectivity across the Wimmera and southern Mallee showed while connectivity was at times strained as more people began working and learning from home, it opened doors for connectivity in other ways. 

Executive director Chris Sounness said the association would seek to document the possibility and costs of connecting people and organisations via video conferencing ongoing

“This period has been undoubtedly challenging – but it also shows that working and learning from home can be done, and that has built autonomy and trust between employers and employees. Leaving the door open to remote working provides flexibility; it also opens doors to connect people without the onus of hours of travel for meetings or education opportunities,” Mr Sounness said. 

“This also opens further opportunities to attract skilled professionals to the region – people who are seeking a lifestyle change but wanting to retain their current employment and don’t need a physical office-front in the region. 

“We need to rethink our views on working or meeting via video conference in the wake of this period.” 

The association’s home internet connectivity study asked participants to complete a speed test three times during a 24-hour period.

Results showed that living in an urban area did not guarantee better internet speeds compared to those of rural customers, and many people were seeking alternative or upgraded services that were fit for purpose. The survey showed many people paid for internet speeds they did not receive. Results also showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely seen traditional “peak times” for internet use evaporate as demand relating to working and learning from home was spread across a longer period.

The mobile internet survey asked participants to complete a single speed test. 

Results show residents have limited choices when it comes to providers and that has more impact than location when it comes to cost and connectivity. Larger providers did not guarantee superior service. 

Mr Sounness said poor connectivity added stress and frustration at a time that already posed extreme challenges due to restrictions relating to the coronavirus health crisis. 

He said advocating for improved infrastructure, in line with the Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Digital Plan; advocating for greater education for consumers – including connectivity process and available providers; and tapping into a growing market for alternative providers were among the other recommendations stemming from the survey. 

“We have people paying for a service, but not truly understanding what the services offers them in terms of speeds. Many could also have improved service if they knew more about the connection their provider or the NBN offered, or something as seemingly simple as the position of their router,” he said. 

“There is a growing market for smaller providers in the region – who, with the right interest, are willing to discuss partnership opportunities.

“There are many different ways to solve our connectivity problems across the Wimmera and southern Mallee.”