With broadband access no longer a luxury and considered just another utility; those without it can be heavily impacted.
“Access to and knowledgeable use of technology is crucial for everyone living in Australia,” says a recently released policy document from the Australian Council Of Social Services (ACOSS).
“Yet the extent of poverty and inequality already means that not only are many people likely to start from a position of disadvantage when it comes to digital inclusion; but there is a real risk that the changing digital environment may exacerbate the lived experience of poverty and the trend towards greater inequality.”
Many government services are now online and clients are being pushed towards those services, but a lack of internet connectivity can be a major challenge to those on low incomes or in isolated areas. Many are forced to use free services in public libraries; which can lack privacy, be hard to schedule and generally inconvenient.
With online services also generally more bandwidth intensive, those with very basic or unreliable connections can find simple browsing near impossible.
For those with access, people on lower incomes spend a significantly higher proportion of their overall incomes on telecommunications.
ACOSS has also expressed alarm over the increasing costs of National Broadband Network access plans, as providers begin piling on more gimmicks and services over and above basic access.
Some have advocated these extra bells and buzzers should be optional to provide consumers with avenues to opt-out in order to reduce costs.
While there have been initiatives to assist those on low incomes in maintaining Internet connectivity; ACOSS warns such programs can become outdated rapidly.
“The need to address the gaps to access, affordability and digital literacy/s kill building are crucial to achieving inclusion both for individuals and within the community service sector,” says ACOSS.
Staying Connected: Digital Divide can be viewed in full here (PDF).