Boosting Digital Ability Key to Overcoming Australia’s Digital Divide
25 August 2016 at 10:58 am
Improving digital ability is key to boosting digital inclusion and ensuring Australians are not missing out on the social, health and financial benefits of being online, according to a new study.
The first Australian Digital Inclusion Index, released on Wednesday, shows that while digital inclusion is improving, digital ability – which includes basic online skills – is emerging as a key barrier for some people to connect and maximise the benefits of online participation.
The research, undertaken by the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology in partnership with Telstra, provides the most detailed snapshot yet of online participation throughout Australia.
Centre for Social Impact director Professor Jo Barraket said the index sets an important foundation measurement for digital inclusion in Australia, which is based on the premise that everyone should be able to make full use of digital technologies.
“The Australian Digital Inclusion Index is a powerful tool that will help us understand the drivers of digital inclusion and exclusion in Australia,” Barraket said.
“Overall, the index shows that digital inclusion is growing in Australia – however inclusion is uneven and there are many Australians who are missing out on the social, health and financial benefits of being online.”
The study showed there is a “digital divide” between richer and poorer Australians and particular communities and social groups are also digitally excluded.
Barraket said in particular people with disabilities and those on low incomes faced barriers to inclusion due to digital ability.
“The index reveals that infrastructure alone doesn’t necessarily equal access and inclusion. Digital ability – which includes online skills, attitudes and knowledge – is emerging as a key impediment to inclusion. This is particularly true for some groups, including people with disabilities, and those on low incomes,” she said.
“This data source will now provide more information for the public, private and community sectors to better inform strategies and programs working to improve digital inclusion in Australia. It is a longitudinal resource, which allows us to collectively reflect on our progress over time.”
The index, based on data from Roy Morgan Research, obtained from their ongoing, weekly Single Source survey of 50,000 Australians, contains data from the last three years, measuring digital inclusion by examining three areas: access, affordability and digital ability.
Key findings of the index include:
- Digital inclusion overall is improving across Australia, and people are spending more time online and doing more online.
- Digital ability is emerging as a key area for national improvement and a barrier to Australians maximising the benefits of being online.
- Across the nation, digital inclusion follows some clear economic and social contours. In general, Australians with low levels of income, education and employment are significantly less digitally included.
- Affordability results show that while the value of online services is improving, people are spending an increasing proportion of household income on digital products.
- Geographical disparities exist across Australia, with some areas showing higher digital inclusion than others, including capital cities.
Telstra’s chief sustainability officer Tim O’Leary said that with a fast growing number of services moving exclusively online, no Australian should get left behind.
“We commissioned this research because digital inclusion is a social justice issue facing policy makers, businesses and communities worldwide,” O’Leary said.
“The index provides vital data to drive not just our own digital inclusion strategies – but those of our community and government partners.”
Following the release of the research, Labor’s Regional Communications spokesperson Stephen Jones called on the Coalition to take immediate steps to address the growing digital divide between urban and regional Australia.
“The evidence is clear that both geography and socio-economic factors play a key role when it comes to access, affordability and digital activity in Australia,” Jones said.
“Alarmingly for the government, the report warns that the overall capital-country gap is widening, with affordability and ability gaps getting worse.”
Jones said increasingly governments and private enterprise have a “default setting” for service offerings which is all online.
“If you are paying more or lack online capability you are not only excluded from economic opportunity – you are increasingly excluded from basic services,” he said.
“With less shopfronts and more and more Commonwealth Government services being provided online, the implications of this report for access to regional services should be sounding alarm bells for the government.”