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Our understanding of digital inclusion in Australia

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that over two and a half million Australians are not online. With our population now over 25 million, that is 10% of our population not engaging with our ever-increasing digital world.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the chance to attend the launch of two important pieces of research that support our understanding of digital inclusion. One by National Broadband Network (NBN), that outlines how the rollout of NBN is providing further access and opportunities to Australians who were not previously participating in the digital world. The other was the launch of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2018 which suggests that the number of people who are digitally excluded in our country is reducing, but there is still a long way to go to ensure no one is left behind in a digital world.

Australian Digital Inclusion Index

The reasons why people are not online or digitally excluded are complex and hard to measure. But, the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) pulls together information from a number of different sources to help us understand this complex issue and to develop programs, policies and strategy to address it. The three key areas of digital inclusion are:

  • Access - internet access, internet technology, internet data allowance
  • Affordability - relative and value of expenditure
  • Ability - attitudes basic skills and activities

This year’s Australia Digital Inclusion Index outlines five years of data which shows that the level of digital inclusion in Australia is improving over time. But some areas are moving faster than others. Access is an area that has steadily improved and this is, in the majority, as a result of the NBN rollout.

Although the value for money has improved in 2018, the improvement is only small and affordability remains a key challenge, particularly for people who are on low incomes. Although the cost of the internet is reducing, the proportion of income that Australians are spending on internet costs is increasing.

The ADII highlights that digital ability is still an area requiring significant improvement, particularly improving the digital skills and confidence of the most excluded sociodemographic groups. The groups of Australians who are particularly digitally excluded in 2018 are people in low-income households, people who are mobile-only users, people aged 65+, people who did not complete secondary school and people with disability.

So, there is much work for us to do in ensuring that all of these groups have the opportunity to thrive in a digital world.

Older Australians using the NBN

As the National Network Manager for the Be Connected program, focussed on supporting older Australians to get online, we at Good Things Foundation know in practice what the ADII suggests in their research. People aged 65+ are the least digitally included age group in Australia. But, we also know, that in the majority this is not because they are not interested in getting online, but because they don’t have the access or the ability to do so.

At the start of a controversial and very busy week in Canberra, it was great to be in Parliament House with the Honourable Ken Wyatt, MP Minister for Aged Care, talking about something that really matters - how access to the internet does make a difference in the lives of older Australians.

As we can see from the ADII above, the NBN is actually making a difference by ensuring that people in Australia have access to the internet and are working at improving digital inclusion. The research launched by NBN - Connecting Australia Learning for life: an economic study of the way we work, live and connect, shows that not only are older people more connected, but they are using the time online to engage in informal learning. In fact, people over 65 are the fastest growing new adopters of non-formal learning online, where the NBN has been rolled out.

The highlight of my day was making a new friend, Faezeh Parkes. Faezeh describes herself as a Global Citizen and is one of those people who lights up a room. Faezeh is passionate about the use of digital technology and talked very clearly about what a difference having the NBN has made in her life, not only in connecting with friends and family all over the world, but also in starting her new career as an actor and model, which she started at the age of 62. I only hope I can maintain my energy and passion for life, while learning about new technology the way Faezeh has.

Listening to all of this research, meeting Faezeh and connecting with people from academia, government and community organisations in the last couple of weeks has reinforced for me that although there are a lot of people seeing the benefit of the digital world, there is still work for us to do, as a country, to make sure no one is left behind in our increasingly digital world. It’s not just a role for government, it’s important for all of us to ensure that the people in our lives and in our communities have the skills and ability to access digital technology.

That’s why we are running our first Get Online Week in October 2018. Get Online Week is a digital inclusion campaign that encourages community groups across the country to hold an event and support people to take their first steps toward participating in the digital world. We already have hundreds of organisations participating and you can get involved too by going to www.getonlineweek.com/aus and registering your event.