Addressing barriers to digital literacy and access to technology is key to ensuring participation in the economy and for social inclusion, particularly for:
- older Australians
- Indigenous Australians
- people with disabilities
- people in low socio-economic groups
- people living in regional and remote areas.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) measures three dimensions of digital inclusion: access, affordability, and digital ability.
The 2018 ADII reports that overall levels of digital inclusion have improved in Australia across all demographics. However, this increase has been uneven between groups, with slower growth rates among Indigenous Australians, older Australians and those with low incomes, education and employment.
Ensuring ongoing affordability
Australian households’ ability to access digital services has improved with communications services becoming increasingly affordable. According to research by the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR), consumers are getting better value as prices stay the same or fall, and product inclusions increase. Ninety-five per cent of Australian adults now use mobile phones, with more than 80 per cent owning smartphones; more than 99 per cent have mobile network coverage.
For home broadband services, the NBN is improving choice and availability. The Government’s investment in the NBN rollout is reducing prices, including for regional consumers. There are NBN plans available for as low as $30 or $40 per month.
NBN Co’s decision to offer a temporary promotional discount on its 50 Mbps speed tier in late 2017 had a significant impact on the affordability and take-up of higher speeds. In 2017, retailers were only managing to sell 50 Mbps or higher speed plans to about 16 per cent of customers – that grew dramatically to around 50 per cent by September 2018. Retailers have moved large numbers of existing customers onto higher speed plans in the first half of 2018, reflecting the increased affordability of these plans.
This also compares favorably with services in other countries. A household with broadband speeds of 25 Mbps or more and 200 GB of monthly data pays less in Australia than the UK, New Zealand, Canada and the US.
However, new digital services need to remain accessible to Australians. While the BCAR found the share of households spending a lot of their income on communications services was declining, the lowest 10 per cent of households by income have seen their share of disposable income spent on communications services increase in recent years.
Increasing rural and remote participation
ADII scores show higher levels of disadvantage for people in rural Australia compared to those living in urban areas. While the gap has narrowed over the past three years, rural areas still have lower levels of access and affordability than capital cities. ABS data have shown that rural and remote households are twice as likely to not have an internet connection as those in major cities.
The NBN rollout will enable all Australian premises to access broadband services with peak wholesale download speeds of at least 25 Mbps by 2020. The vast majority of the 2.5 million fixed line premises outside major urban areas and the over 600,000 premises covered by fixed wireless will be able to access 50 Mbps services. Some fixed line premises will also be able to access higher speeds.
The Government is working with NBN Co Limited to design new products using the Sky Muster service for those groups with particular needs in regional and rural Australia.
This includes a range of products, including enterprise satellite services to support business applications, mobility solution, enhanced services such as multicast, and Wi Fi solutions for remote Indigenous communities.
NBN Co Limited is partnering with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) to provide broadband connectivity to support this essential service across the most remote areas of Australia. The partnership will provide broadband to RFDS bases and 300 remote area clinics including higher data allowances for those sites using Sky Muster services.
While the NBN rollout and increasing mobile coverage will create greater opportunities for participation, this increased access needs to be leveraged to ensure it is accompanied by increased participation in the digital economy that will maximise the benefits to all Australians, especially disadvantaged groups.
Supporting older Australians to go digital
People aged over 65 are Australia’s least digitally included age group with a digital score of 46. The gap between this group and younger Australians is substantial and has widened since 2015.
Being able to access online information and services and interact online offers significant benefits for older Australians who may be socially isolated or may have mobility issues. It is therefore important to support this group to become and stay connected online.
Additionally, Australia’s Digital Pulse reports:
- only 28 per cent of ICT workers are women, compared to 45 per cent in all professional industries
- only 12 per cent are over the age of 55, compared to 15 per cent in all professional industries.
Reducing the gender divide
There is a global digital divide, a difference in technology access, between men and women. The proportion of women using the internet is 12 per cent lower than the proportion of men (ITU Facts and Figures 2017).
The Gender Equality Scorecard indicates Australia has a significant digital gender divide, with women making up only 39 per cent of information media and telecommunications graduates.
The gender divide is more evident amongst older Australians, with women aged 65+ facing lower levels of overall digital inclusion than their male counterparts. The digital gender gap widens further as age increases.
Protecting human rights, democracy and peace online
There is a risk that the internet and digital technologies can be used by foreign governments to undermine human rights. For example, freedoms can be restricted through politically motivated internet censorship, internet shutdowns, illicit monitoring, targeted hacking and the arrest and intimidation of online activists, journalists and others. There is also growing international concern about malicious and criminal cyber activity. This includes online child exploitation, discrimination, intimidation, harassment and violence facilitated by digital technologies, and the promotion of violent extremism.