Today, there are almost three million Australians who are not online. As a result, they are not able to take advantage of the educational, health, social and financial benefits of being connected. Tim O’Leary, Telstra’s Chief Sustainability Officer, takes a look at the results of the first Australian Digital Inclusion Index.
“I want to live for another 10 years. This is so exciting.”
It takes the words of an 86-year-old social housing resident in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales to remind me of the immensity of impact the internet has had on our society. ‘Frank’ is taking part in The Digital Age Project, a research program working to improve the digital skills and confidence of older people living in social housing. And with new skills comes opportunity. An important finding of the project to-date is the social benefits participants are experiencing, including increased connections with family and friends.
It’s these stories that drove us and our partners at Swinburne University of Technology, the Centre for Social Impact and Roy Morgan Research to create the first Australian Digital Inclusion Index.
And it’s a story of building digital ability that is emerging as one of our most significant from the Index findings.
Professor Jo Barraket from the Index research team tells us that the Index reveals that ‘infrastructure alone doesn’t necessarily equal access and inclusion’ and that digital ability – which looks at people’s online skills and attitudes to technology – is a key area for improvement.
The Index shows that across Australia digital ability has improved over the past three years, yet it has risen from a low base. The base is lowest for some demographic groups, including people with disabilities, and those on low incomes. I believe this presents a real opportunity and an area for us, along with our partners in addressing digital inclusion to take a closer look at. Without skills and confidence, many Australians will be unable to maximise the opportunities of the digital world.
The Index has been created to provide a detailed picture of online participation across the country – and an important information tool in bridging the digital divide. Swinburne researchers created the Index by examining digital inclusion across the three areas of access, affordability and digital ability over a three year period.
The Index shows that digital inclusion follows some clear economic and social contours across Australia. People with lower levels of income, education and employment are less digitally included than the general population. This is also the case for Indigenous people, those living with a disability, as well as older Australians – with those over the age of 65 the least digitally included in Australia.
The data shows geographical disparities across Australia, with some areas showing higher digital inclusion than others, including capital cities. Researchers found that internet access was already high across Australia in 2014, and has increased for the subsequent two years. However the measure of online affordability declined. A closer look at the affordability results reveals that while the value of online services is improving – meaning consumers are getting more data for their dollar – people are spending an increasing proportion of household income on digital products.
What our researchers tell us is that for many Australians this isn’t a problem, but for those on a low income and with financial pressures, it could be a concern. This made me think of a letter my office received from Anglicare telling us the story of ‘Harry’. Aged in his 50s and a former senior manager at a large government department, a series of events had led to Harry becoming homeless. The team at Anglicare supported Harry for a 12 month period – during which time his mobile phone and internet account became vital for his survival. He needed these services to apply for jobs, schedule appointments and prepare for interviews. After what would be the toughest time in his life, Harry had found a good job and was returning to the life he once knew. It was uplifting for us to know that he stayed connected during this time through Telstra’s Access for Everyone program – which helps customers stay connected when they’re doing it tough.
It’s because of people like Harry that the Index was created – to provide essential information to better inform policy, strategies and programs working to improve digital inclusion in Australia across the public, private and community sectors. The benefits of being online are immense and we believe the Index is another step forward in working to bridge the digital divide.
Telstra and digital inclusion: Everyone Connected
We believe that everyone – regardless of age, income, ability or location – should enjoy the benefits of being connected to modern communications technology. Telstra has long been focused on addressing digital inclusion and our Everyone Connected programs aim to empower all Australians to enjoy the benefits that new communication technologies bring. Last financial year we reached more than 59,000 people through our digital literacy programs, including Tech Savvy Seniors training sessions for older Australians which aim to build skills and confidence. Through our Access for Everyone program Telstra helps people on a low income or facing financial hardship to stay connected, last financial year, the benefit provided by our programs for vulnerable customers was $107 million.
Find out more how we’re working to address the digital divide and Telstra’s Everyone Connected programs at exchange.telstra.com.au/sustainability/.
Download the Australia Digital Inclusion Index Report
Download the Australia Digital Inclusion Index Report at digitalinclusionindex.org.au/report