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Battling the Digital Divide: NFPs as ICT Brokers


Thursday, 21st July 2011 at 9:02 am
Lina Caneva, Editor
Not for Profit organisations in regional Australia are increasingly becoming ICT brokers for the communities they serve – despite struggling to keep up with the technology themselves, according to new research.


Thursday, 21st July 2011
at 9:02 am
Lina Caneva, Editor


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Battling the Digital Divide: NFPs as ICT Brokers
Thursday, 21st July 2011 at 9:02 am

Not for Profit organisations in regional Australia are increasingly becoming ICT brokers for the communities they serve – despite struggling to keep up with the technology themselves, according to new research.

Flickr image Some rights reserved by kjd 
According to the Another Barrier? report, as Australia moves into the era of the digital economy and the National Broadband Network (NBN), Not for Profits are increasingly finding themselves as brokers of phone and Internet access for their clients who continue to struggle with the basics of availability, affordability and accessibility of ICT.

The research was undertaken in the Northern Rivers Region on NSW, chosen due to its high concentration of disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers living in the area and accessing NFPs. Twenty in-depth interviews were conducted with NFPs representing a broad cross section of the community, with the aim of finding out how Not for Profit organisations in regional Australia and their clients are currently faring in relation to communications technology.

With the roll out of the National Broadband Network already underway, the reports says it aims to provide insight into how disadvantaged people in regional Australia will fare in an increasingly digitally-enabled society.

The report found that disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers are turning to NFPs for assistance in accessing ICT, and these organisations are themselves struggling to keep up with technology.  

Community workers interviewed for the report noticed an increase in the amount of time spent assisting clients with accessing information online and related tasks, saying ‘ICT brokerage’ is becoming a core part of their work.

The report says that looking to the future of the NBN includes recognising that Not for Profit organisations are intermediaries in the consumer chain.

It says the needs of Not for Profit organisations must be considered as part of the solution to empowering disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers in regional areas, because it is with these services that consumers have regular and ongoing contact and relationships.

The reports says support must be given in the way of funding, training and assistance to broker ICTs and the NBN to ensure disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers can become empowered communications consumers.

Other major findings of the report include:

  • Lack of infrastructure and service performance (at a basic level) in regional areas will widen the ‘digital divide’ if current problems aren’t addressed soon by better coverage.
  • Affordability of hardware and devices to access networks and the services delivered on them is a major concern.  As a result, many of the Not for Profits interviewed say contacting and maintaining communication with clients is a challenge for them.
  • There is a lack of skills and confidence in the area of digital literacy.
  • Access to ICT is not seen as a pressing area of need by local people, falling behind things such as secure housing, employment and health concerns – resulting in a widening digital divide that compounds pre-existing disadvantage.

Recommendations

The report says these findings should used to contribute to awareness of the unique issues affecting regional disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers and to ensure that the needs of this group are advocated for in the development of policy around high-speed broadband and other next generation networks.

The report recommends that government funding bodies must recognise brokering ICT as part of the critical role Not for Profit organisations play in providing services to disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers.

It says government and Not for Profits should continue to provide the option for people to receive information in hard-copy and allow people to communicate with them using traditional methods, including in person.

Research for the report was undertaken by Spiral Research & Consulting and funded by the ACCAN Grants Scheme.

The Australian Communication Consumer Action Network is the peak communications consumer body.  Visit www.accan.org.au for more information.

To download the full report, visit: http://accan.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=340:another-barrier&catid=96:broadband&Itemid=208


Lina Caneva  |  Editor |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

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