Rural and regional Australians are matching the big smoke in their uptake of Internet usage, providing regional resellers with a loyal market of seven million consumers, according to online monitoring company, Red Sheriff.
Red Sheriff research director Virginia Mee said she was surprised at how advanced regional users are in their approach to the Internet on both a B2B and B2C level.
While B2B lagged slightly, Mee said there's no reason why regional users wouldn't be taking up shared server offerings, particularly in the business and education sectors.
The sophistication of PC set-ups within regional households and businesses is equivalent to that of their city counterparts, despite modem speeds being slightly slower.
Red Sheriff research highlighted significant opportunities for ISPs to increase their market penetration by forming alliances with computer manufacturers and retailers.
"Regional users have a strong preference for package deals offered by local computer stores -- bundling a PC with a modem and an Internet plan," said Mee.
It's a method which has been successfully adapted by regional ISP Netspace, which offers connection plans as an add-on service through country computer stores.
The Melbourne-based company has been absorbing struggling regional ISPs, taking on their client bases and upping connection speed while keeping the localised shopfronts.
Hans Enklaar, director of Headware computer store in Mudgee, NSW, says that retail outlets are often the first point of call for users seeking ISP recommendations.
"I refer customers to the local LISP (a collective of independent ISPs "working together on a handshake") and Mudgee Internet ISPs as well as Ozemail and Telstra BigPond. Most of them end up going to LISP because that's who I use," he said.
According to Mee, regional users rate the ability to access face-to-face service and support very highly, as well as harbouring a deep-seated desire to support local business.
According to Ross Cataldo of Netspace, the company's unique business model feeds directly into this desire while generating opportunities for both ends of the food chain. "Resellers get commission on referrals to us. In turn, when a customer needs their computer serviced, we refer them to a service centre in their local area."
Meanwhile, consolidation of regional ISPs seems to be a growing trend, with independent companies banding together to gain better deals on services and increase buying power. Highway Internet Services in Mudgee is part of LISP and its owner, Gary Byrne, asserts that Internet uptake in regional areas has always been extremely strong, perhaps more so than metropolitan users in the initial stages.
"The bush immediately identified it [the Internet] as a means of gaining access to research and educational facilities," he said.
"Communication with long-distance family members or overseas relatives is also popular but it's panning off now as entertainment becomes the primary motive for users getting connected."