More Australians are involved in the digital world than ever but divides continue to exist, according to a yearly survey of national connectedness.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index released its 2021 findings on Friday showing that the national score for inclusion rose 3.6 points to 71.1 in the past year.
The Australian Capital Territory ranked highest, with an index score of 77, while the least-included states were Tasmania, 66, and South Australia, 69.
It measured three areas of online participation — access, affordability, and digital ability — and found cost continued to be an ongoing barrier.
As many as 14% of all Australians needed to pay more than 10% of their household income to gain quality and uninterrupted connectivity, the index found.
But the percentage of the population considered “highly excluded” from online participation dropped six percentage points to 11% this year.
For people considered highly excluded and excluded, cyber safety was a rising concern, with 20% saying fear about privacy and scams limited their internet use.
The index comes as the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications is undertaking a regional telecommunications review, legislated to occur every three years, and work is underway on an Indigenous Digital Inclusion Plan.
Both reports heavily reference the Australian Digital Inclusion Index to understand the trends of online access around the nation.
The latest figures also show the divide between regional and metropolitan areas narrowing but with regional areas still on average 5.5 points behind big cities.
First developed in 2015, the index is an annual study that the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society at RMIT, and the Centre for Social Impact and Telstra undertake.
The Centre for Social Impact’s Jo Barraket said the pandemic had seen more of Australia online.
“This has deepened the digital divide and we need more than ever to understand and address the factors that are leaving people and places behind,” the Swinburne University professor said.
Julian Thomas, from RMIT’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, said the pandemic showed the importance of affordable and accessible digital services for all Australians.