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The role of telecommunications in the sustainable development of rural and remote communities in the Northern Territory

Bandias, Susan (2008). The role of telecommunications in the sustainable development of rural and remote communities in the Northern Territory. PhD Thesis, Charles Darwin University.

Document type: Thesis
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Author Bandias, Susan
Title The role of telecommunications in the sustainable development of rural and remote communities in the Northern Territory
Institution Charles Darwin University
Publication Date 2008
Thesis Type PhD
Subjects 1499 - Other Economics
1005 - Communications Technologies
Abstract This thesis examines the role of telecommunications in the sustainable development of urban, rural and remote communities in the Northern Territory (NT). The NT presents a unique and challenging social, economic, demographic and geopolitical environment. The Territory covers a vast area, is sparsely populated and is isolated from all major Australian population centres. Whilst the majority of the Territory population resides in the major urban areas of Darwin and Alice Springs, almost 40 per cent of the population is spread across many small and isolated communities across the NT. The majority of the population that live in the rural and remote regions of the Territory are of Indigenous descent. Telecommunication access has been, and is integral to the social and economic development of the Territory. However, the challenge of providing telecommunications access to the remote areas of NT, to a population that is widely dispersed and experiences severe social and economic disadvantage has been a re-occurring theme in the history of the Northern Territory. Historically, telecommunications access has played a major role in not only the settlement of the Territory but also in the social and economic well-being of its inhabitants. Telecommunications is an enabling technology as it has facilitated the provision of health and education services to residents in the outback; it has enabled social interaction and economic participation and it has provided a “mantle of safety” for those living in remote and inaccessible regions of the Territory. However, disparities in telecommunications access in the Territory exist and, in recent years, these disparities have continued to widen. The rapid expansion of network technology and the seemingly ubiquitous reach of the Internet have exacerbated these inequalities. Those most affected by the difference in telecommunications access are the remote isolated Indigenous communities that are located across the NT. This thesis examines the role of telecommunications in sustainable development of urban, rural and remote communities through the theoretical lens of social capital. Social capital is a relatively new theoretical construct and it is rapidly v gaining interest among policy makers, politicians and researchers as a means to both describe and understand social and economic development. Increasingly, the concept of social capital, as opposed to the traditional economic indicators, is seen as a more accurate measure of well-being. Whilst the essence of social capital is quality social relations, the concept intersects with telecommunications and Information Communications Technology in a number of ways. The potential of ICT to disseminate information quickly, to reach vast numbers of people simultaneously and to include the previously excluded is immense. Consequently, this thesis examined the nexus in the Northern Territory between social relations of mutual benefit, telecommunications access and sustainable development. The thesis adopted a mixed methodology to provide an evidence based analysis of the role of telecommunications in the sustainable development of the NT. Four Northern Territory communities were analysed in this study. The communities consisted of a two urban, a rural and a remote Indigenous community. The four communities involved in this study were chosen as representative of the diverse lifestyles, circumstances and population of the Territory. The quantitative and qualitative research data suggested that there was a relationship between social capital and telecommunications access. A synthesis of the survey results and the qualitative data indicated that there was a positive relationship between access to telecommunications services and facilities, social and civic participation and the capacity to build and maintain relationships. However, the relationship between social capital and telecommunications access was not consistent across all locations. Geographic isolation, the density of established networks and the capacity to access telecommunications services had an extenuating effect on the telecommunication-social capital relationship. This research concluded that access to telecommunications services has the potential to facilitate the sustainable social and economic development. However, disparities in telecommunications access in the remote regions of the Territory inhibit this development.


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