Home Health Australia’s digital divide means 2.8 million people remain ‘severely deprived’ of internet...

Australia’s digital divide means 2.8 million people remain ‘severely deprived’ of internet access

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At a home in the remote Kimberley, a woman waves her phone in the air for hours trying to get a signal to pay a bill.

A man’s bank account was closed due to a dodgy phone line, which raises suspicions of fraudsters.

And on a picturesque farm, families faced with a sudden, shocking death cannot call an ambulance.

These scenes are set in regional Australia, where residents without access to telephone and internet services struggle to keep up with the fast-moving online world.

Latest figures show 11 per cent of Australians are “highly excluded” from digital services, meaning they don’t have access to affordable internet or don’t know how to use it.

This is approximately 2.8 million people.

A converted refrigerator houses a payphone at Drysdale River Station in remote Washington.(ABC News: Erin Park)

So how are they coping with government and banking services going online?

“This becomes a major problem for people living in communities where they cannot access internet services, and this has become very apparent during the COVID pandemic,” said RMIT University researcher Daniel Featherstone.

“It limits people’s ability to participate in society and access the services they need to live – we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable, low-income people in the country who can’t access services designed to help them.”

Rates are improving, but some are lagging behind

Digital connectivity is a fancy phrase that describes whether or not people can access an accessible Internet that they understand how to use.

National data show that rates are rising steadily, but there are sections of society that are lagging behind.

Graph with bright lines.
Funded by Telstra, the Australian Index of Digital Inclusion is run by RMIT and Swinburne Universities.(Delivered: Australian Digital Inclusion Index)

People in capital cities are more likely to be online than people in regional areas, and it’s no surprise that people with low incomes struggle to get online.

There are various reasons for the digital divide – many older Australians lack online literacy and in some areas a lack of infrastructure limits opportunities.

Urgent contact is a concern

One example is the Mimbi community in Guniandi Country in the far north of Western Australia.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-10-16/australia-digital-divide-millions-cannot-access-internet/101498042

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