RS2: Oz

Australia’s digital divide is not going away

In Australia, the digital divide doesn’t seem like it’ll be narrowed anytime soon. According to The Conversation’s Mai Lam, “Almost 2.6 million Australians, according to these ABS figures, do not use the internet. Nearly 1.3 million households are not connected” (para. 4). The numbers sourced from ABS, the Australian Bureau of Statistics also tell a tale of various factors affecting internet access for Australians. Alas, the digital divide is a problem far beyond America’s borders.

There are various factors affecting Australia’s digital divide. Lam claims that age is one, stating that “while more than nine in ten people aged between 15 to 54 are internet users, the number drops to eight in ten of those aged 55-64 years, and to under six in ten of those over 65 years” (para. 5). ABS numbers also indicate that compared to those with jobs, the unemployed are much less connected to the internet. The same can be said for income, whereas “96.9% of the highest quintile (bracket representing one fifth of the sample) income households have access, whereas only 67.4% of the lowest quintile have access” (para. 10). What these numbers are saying is that the benefits offered by internet access aren’t being reaped by the Australians that have the most to gain from them.

The Australians that sit on the good side of the digital divide are doing more online, too. Unsurprisingly, “better-off Australians appear to be doing more online. Compared to the general population their uses of online banking and shopping, education and health services are higher. They are connected to the internet with multiple devices, with an average of 7.2 devices at home, compared to 4.4 in the lowest income quintile” (para. 11). Those with more access are taking advantage of it, creating a digital divide in yet another country that leaves many at a disadvantage. This can manifest itself in multiple ways. Education is one. In Lam’s eyes, “the increasingly central role of the internet in educational activities, the fact that the number of family households without access has not fallen since 2014-15 is concerning” (para. 15).

The two main factors keeping this digital divide in place are affordability and geographical location. The 2018 ABS data did not specify why certain households didn’t have internet access, but the 2015 data set “revealed cost was a factor keeping 198,600 households offline. Unsurprisingly, 148,200 of these households were from the two lowest income quintiles” (para. 14). Geography is influencing Australia’s digital divide too. The gap between the major cities and the bush has not narrowed over time – 87.9% of those living in major cities have internet access at home, 82.7% in inner regional, 80.7% in outer regional and 77.1% in remote areas…this survey did not include remote Indigenous communities, where the evidence suggests that internet access is usually very poor” (para. 12). It appears that Australia’s divide is only growing.

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