After William had managed to connect the region to fast broadband internet, he realised that he had to go back to JCU and enrol in a PhD if he wanted to help rural and remote farms prepare for the challenges of the 2020s.
“Through my business, I actually met my supervisor, Dr Rachel Hay, probably five or six years ago. I knew what her interests were and that she was interested in my project,” William says. “What I really wanted understand is what role the internet plays in the day-to-day lives and businesses of farmers, and how important it is for them.”
Trouble with the internet in rural Australia
Looking at the NBN satellite connection that most people in rural and remote Australia use to access the internet, William says, “I personally believe it’s holding people back and limiting the ability of farmers to adopt technology, improve their businesses and to disseminate information.”
Another issue that William sees is that most internet plans are too complicated and not easy to understand for ordinary people. “Some people might be less inclined to sign up for an internet plan because they don't understand it. Some are scared to get excess data bills or they don’t understand what the plans are and what they can and can't do.”
Using filters to categorise ‘big data’
For his PhD research William is currently looking at a massive amount of anonymously collected internet usage data. “I was able to extract anonymous data from a group of graziers. So, I actually have empirical data, I have quantitative data I am analysing,” he says. This data will help William to better understand the internet usage of many farmers and how much data they are using.
“I have a software that automatically categorises internet usage data based on certain rules, but unfortunately, there aren’t rules for everything,” William says.
“Facebook, Apple and Google, for example, make up 50 per cent of all data usage, with Facebook alone taking up approximately a high 20 per cent of this data consumption,” William says. This means there is still another 50 per cent of the data that is uncategorised. “This is where we'll need some further research. This is also important because we need to understand what farmers need,” William says.
How important is Facebook for a farmer?
Even though William says he now knows that the cattle stations in his research are heavy users of Facebook, Apple and Google, he still doesn’t know what they are actually doing on these sites, as the data collection software doesn’t look at the contents of any communications.
“Certainly, a part of this is most definitely just social interaction. But what about buying things, what about sharing ideas and knowledge?” William says. That is what still needs looking into, and William is thinking about interviewing some of the people who live on the cattle stations in the region.