The internet generates extraordinary social, cultural and economic benefits for Australians, but we know that these benefits are not equally shared. Almost three million Australians are not online, and many more are not able to take full advantage of online services. For those who are not connected, the consequences of exclusion are increasing as our essential educational, health, and social services move online.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index provides our most complete picture yet of Australia’s digital divide. As a source of evidence and a guide for action, the Index shows us where digital inclusion is improving and where more needs to be done. The Index breaks digital inclusion down into three critical dimensions: access to data and internet services; affordability; and digital ability — the skills and capacities of users.
The latest 2017 data from the Index shows that across all these dimensions, digital inclusion is increasing in Australia. That is good news. But the Index results also show how the level of digital inclusion among Australians varies greatly. Across regions, and across our social and economic geography, there are groups of Australians who are substantially less connected than others. And in many cases, digital exclusion is linked closely to social exclusion and disadvantage. For some Australians — those who are older, and those on lower incomes — the gaps between them and others are increasing.
In our 2017 report on the Index we take a closer look at some groups of Australians who are less connected than others. This includes Indigenous Australians, for whom the gap has narrowed over the last three years, and Australians with a disability, who still have relatively low digital inclusion. We also looked more closely at mobile only internet users, who have no fixed internet access. Of course, smart phones offer great advantages for users, but there are limits to what people can do with mobiles. Despite all the benefits of mobile internet, levels of digital inclusion are much lower for mobile only users than for Australians overall, with mobile-only consumers linked closely to socio-economic factors such as lower levels of income and employment.
The Index shows how the digital inclusion challenge is evolving – affordability and digital ability are clearly as important as access. Our findings on affordability may surprise some readers. The Index shows that the value of internet services has improved across Australia, meaning that data-per-dollar has increased each year for consumers over the four years of the survey. It’s important to note that when we measure affordability we are not only looking at the cost of data, we are also interested in the proportion of household income dedicated to this service. So, although prices have declined, Australians are using more data, increasing their number of services, and therefore spending more on the internet.
The result reflects the degree to which the internet has become an integral part of everyday life – we are doing more online; we are doing an increasing range of things online; and, in many households, we are connecting with an increasing number of devices. For middle income and better-off Australians, this is unlikely to be a problem. But for lower income households, especially those on fixed incomes, affordability is an important issue, and one we should monitor carefully.
Digital ability is another key area for discussion with the release of the 2017 Index report. What is digital ability? It’s what people can actually do online, and therefore how they can benefit from being connected. When we look at digital ability, we are considering people’s sense of control and security; their basic skills in accessing information and managing transactions; and their capacity in more complex tasks.
Our report shows that digital ability varies considerably across the population, but is generally improving from a low base. However, it is improving slowly, reflecting the challenges for many Australians in keeping up with technology. We believe that digital ability is a critical area for support and attention because we know that, with assistance, this is a domain where strong improvements are possible. Valuable programs are already making a difference — Telstra’s Tech Savvy Seniors is an example.
The value of the Index lies in the assistance it can provide in targeting and shaping future work. It can help guide future policy and action by improving the evidence base and sharpening our focus. As technology drives further transformations in life and work, digital inclusion will become an increasingly important issue for all of us.
Digital inclusion and Telstra
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.
In FY17 we reached more than 63,000 people through our digital literacy programs, including Tech Savvy Seniors training sessions for older Australians and InDigiMob, which is establishing a network of Indigenous digital mentors in remote Northern Territory communities. 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 $87.7 million. Out Telstra Kids Digital Futures has been rolling-out more than 40 digital projects for young people in regional areas right across Australia, to build the skills they need in the future.
Find out more how we’re working to address the digital divide and Telstra’s Everyone Connected programs at https://exchange.telstra.com.au/digital-inclusion/.
Download the Australia Digital Inclusion Index Report at digitalinclusionindex.org.au/report.