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Technological Literacy and Interrupted Internet Access

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journal contribution
posted on 21.05.2021, 10:55 authored by Julie Freeman, Sora Park, Catherine Middleton
As everyday practices are increasingly digitalised, many countries are prioritising broadband rollout. However, infrastructure provision under national policies has not been uniform. In comparison to urban populations, rural communities often have inferior broadband infrastructure and services and there are disparities in digital opportunities between rural and urban areas. A case study of twenty rural Australian internet users reveals that rural communities suffer from limited access, inconsistent and unreliable services, and rural broadband plans’ data restrictions and high prices, which we conceptualise as ‘interrupted access’. Rural internet experiences are subsequently shaped by the availability, speed, stability and affordability of connections. As a response, a form of ‘technological literacy’ is emerging through which rural consumers undertake technical and social manoeuvrings to self-address challenges from interrupted access and increase their opportunities for digital inclusion. Participants developed innovative local solutions, such as self-installed auxiliary hardware and mobile towers, which they used to improve mobile broadband coverage. Those unable to build such solutions displayed new types of knowledge encompassing broader contexts of connectivity (infrastructure, devices and plans) and re-structured rural life to accommodate internet use that is shaped by interrupted access. Growing community-level capacity and interest in broadband development suggests national policies could better reduce rural-urban inequities by supporting and empowering localised solutions. Without addressing the interrupted nature of rural connectivity to improve service quality and affordability, disparities in the digital opportunities available to rural and urban consumers will persist. KEYWORDS: Broadband infrastructure/services, digital divide, rural communities, digital inclusion