GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO ACT ON DIGITAL EXCLUSION

Labor’s Regional Communications spokesperson Stephen Jones has warned that the Coalition must take immediate steps to address the growing digital divide between urban and regional Australia.

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Telstra’s Measuring Australia’s Digital Divide: The Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2016, released today, outlines the extent of the growing digital divide in Australia. The ADI index measures access (internet access, frequency and data allowance), affordability (share of household income spent on internet access) and ability (basic skills and confidence, attitudes and activities).

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.

Alarmingly for the government, the report warns that the overall “Capital-Country gap” is widening, with affordability and ability gaps getting worse.

The INSEAD Global Innovation Index (2013) has shown that the internet has contributed 21 per cent to GDP in regional economies between 2004-2009. Other studies have shown that the internet contributes 3.4 per cent to the GDP in G8 countries.

Increasingly, governments and private enterprise have a default setting for service offerings: it’s 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.

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 Coalition MPs and Senators.

The Telstra report also identifies the regional areas that should be of particular concern, including the New South Wales Hunter region, North West Queensland, Northern Victoria, the Eyre region in South Australia, Southern Tasmania and much of regional Western Australia.

The findings will be particularly alarming for households and businesses outside of major cities given that the Coalition has a poor record when it comes to addressing digital inclusion in remote, rural and regional Australia.

The Coalition has no answers to the problems.

Instead of facing these issues the Liberal and National Parties have wrapped themselves in a policy that sees a record roll-out of copper, over $1 billion in payments to Telstra to maintain the old copper network and a plan to abolish Universal Wholesale Pricing. These are policies that will grow the digital divide – not improve.

While the Coalition has been distracted by technology issues, it has completely overlooked the demographic barriers to accessing that technology.

This issue is too important to ignore and cannot be left to state or local government alone to address, it requires a national policy response. That’s why it is vital that the Minister for Regional Communications, Senator Nash, outlines what steps the Turnbull Government will take to address Australia’s digital divide.

Regional Australians shouldn’t miss out on access to government services and all of the many benefits that should flow from a more equitable access to digital services. 

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