While governments continue to move essential services online, this year’s Digital Inclusion Index shows a sizeable proportion of the population still lack access to the internet. A solution will require more than just improved infrastructure.
Digital inclusion is improving, but certain groups are still more likely to be left out, according to the results of the 2018 Australian Digital Inclusion Index.
This includes rural residents, older Australians, people with disability, Indigenous people, and those who have low levels of education, income or employment.
There are perhaps 2.5 million Australians who are not online, and as a result are missing out on the education, health, social and financial benefits that come with an internet connection.
“If you look at the data, the people who probably depend most on government services are broadly speaking those who are least digitally included, and have less in the way of confidence and capacity in terms of using online services,” explains lead author Professor Julian Thomas from RMIT’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre.“All these groups have their own characteristics — there’s not a single solution for all of them.”
“It’s that classic paradox that the people who have the most to gain from the transition to digital are also least likely to be getting the benefits from it,” he told The Mandarin.
“And it’s not a problem which looks like it’s going to go away quickly. It’s quite a complicated problem because there are multiple dimensions to it.”
The digital inclusion index is a collaboration of Telstra, RMIT University and the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne, using Roy Morgan Research.
This year’s index shows that inclusion has improved for all jurisdictions except the Northern Territory, and that Australians are spending more time online than ever before. Tasmania has made a significant leap thanks to the almost-complete NBN rollout there.
The index analyses three factors — digital ability, access, and affordability — and is based on surveys with 16,000 people.
The ACT sits at the top of the index, followed by Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory, Tasmania, and South Australia.
One common issue is affordability. While value for money has improved somewhat, giving people more data per dollar, spending as a proportion of the household budget has also been increasing.
Low income earners and Indigenous people are also more likely to only have internet access on a mobile, which can be restrictive and tends to be more expensive for a given amount of data.
Offering mobile users unmetered access to government websites could help, says Thomas.
“What government can do is certainly think hard about how services are being delivered. They can continue to invest in making online services easier to use, and more responsive.
“But all these groups have their own characteristics — there’s not a single solution for all of them.
“It’s not just about providing better infrastructure. It’s thinking about a coordinated approach which addresses problems around affordability and builds people’s capacity and confidence,” he argues.
“It’s not something government can do on its own, but will require working with communities. I’d say it’s a complicated problem and probably needs a more strategic and coordinated response from government than we’ve seen so far.”