RS2: Land Down Under

Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide: new report

In “Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide: new report,” the author, Julian Thomas, discusses another important facet of the digital divide (yes, aside from accessibility): affordability. Thomas utilizes Australia’s Digital inclusion Index (ADII), a report that uses data on “online access, digital ability, and affordability,” to introduce his central argument: although the internet is a revolutionizing technology for advancement in communication and service, it “also reflects social and economic divides we find offline” (para. 2). According to Thomas, although Australia’s overall ADII score has risen over the past few years, “there is still a ‘digital divide’ between richer and poorer Australians” (para. 4). The ADII score of those who earn less than $35,000 per year is 41.1, and those who earn greater than $150,000 per year have a score of 68.1 (on a scale of 100) (para. 4). One of the categories used in the measurement of the ADII, affordability, Thomas calls a “key dimension of digital inclusion” (para. 6) A large part of the discrepancy between the rich and poor’s ADAII scores comes from reduced affordability for low income Australians. Thomas notes that data affordability is not only the basic cost of data, but is actually the “proportion of household income [that] is being dedicated to this service” (para. 8) According to the Commonwealth Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR), lower income Australians spend roughly 10% of their income on internet, middle income spend 4%, and wealthy Australians spend less than 2% (para. 11). Thomas’s argument is that this inequity spurs more inequity – internet access provides online services within the education, government, health, and business sectors – and with increasing cost, poorer Australians lose this necessity (para. 12). Yes, necessity (according to Thomas). Groups are unequally effected by the cost of internet access; Thomas reports that 1 in 5 Australians have access through mobile devices only, which is “considerably more expensive than broadband” (para. 13). These Australians are typically lower income, over 65, or have a disability (para. 14). Towards the end of his discussion, Thomas provides suggestions for future improvements on these issues, mostly focusing on policy intervention. Thomas suggests subsidizing the internet, like electricity, as an “essential [utility]” for lower income people (para. 22). Additionally, Thomas proposes greater security on public access wifi for those that only have internet access via a mobile device (para. 23).

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