THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IS ALIVE AND WELL IN OUTBACK AUSTRALIA
Existing policy clearly articulates the Australian Government’s priority of reliable and affordable access to effective telecommunications for all. However, the rollout of the NBN in the Outback has not ensured full connectivity, with many experiencing slow, expensive, capped satellite access that limits business, education, health and social services.
Mobile access is the preferred choice of technology for many in remote communities. Where individuals have access to mobile coverage and the Internet, it is generally through the use of pre-paid plans which have higher price points; people often have no or very limited phone credit. Access to landlines is limited in remote communities.
This digital divide has significant economic and social consequences. The move from bricks-and-mortar health and social services to online services has introduced a structural barrier to access for many people, particularly from the remote communities of the Outback. Where internet is slow, unaffordable or otherwise limited, it prevents access to services such as myGov or online banking, that other Australians take for granted. By way of example, the Central Australia Aboriginal Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS) has estimated that 20,000 of the 45,360 eligible people in remote communities in the Northern Territory have no income support, citing lack of telecommunications access as a key obstacle to communicating with Centrelink.
CONNECTIVITY AND DIGITAL INCLUSION
In order for all remote and regional areas of Australia to be fully connected and contribute to the national economy, an investment in infrastructure and education must be made. A dedicated multi-pronged approach is urgently needed to ensure that the digital divide does not widen in Outback Australia.
Such an approach must include both connectivity and digital inclusion, a key enabler for social, cultural and economic development. It should also incorporate improved data collection to inform an overarching policy, strategy and monitoring framework. It should also ensure that access to essential online services is unmetered.
Digital inclusion will drive opportunities for employment, enterprise development, and access to more affordable products and services. It also enables people to independently access online services and to engage in the digital business and social community, reducing support costs.
Given that Aboriginal people have been recognised to have a significant gap in digital inclusion compared with the broader Australian population, there is a need for Indigenous Digital Inclusion to be adopted by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) as a key performance measure within the Closing the Gap framework.
Feature photo: New technology, like drones, helps land managers to monitor the condition of the land and manage natural resources | Broadband for the Bush Alliance.