The digital divide is a denial of human rights
The right to digital access, should be a right we expect like a right to equality, or accessibility.
Recent debate about the price households will pay for their broadband as the National Broadband Network (NBN) is rolled out, has raised issues such as affordability.
As that debate continues, it is important to also focus on the need for digital inclusion to improve quality of life, and on extending opportunities - particularly in employment.
Infoxchange, an Australian NGO seeking a digitally inclusive society, sees universal access to technology and connectivity as a fundamental infrastructure requirement of any civil and democratic society that espouses equal opportunity, equality and a fair go.
Digital disadvantage can take many forms. It is the seniors, like my parents, who cannot email their children or grandchildren. It is the manual labourer who has been laid off and is seeking employment, who having never used a computer, now finds that he or she needs to submit an electronic job application, or it can be the family that cannot afford a computer, or access to the Internet.
Digital proficiency improves the effectiveness of service delivery and has a flow-on effect that creates a more digitally inclusive society.
Research by A T Kearney last year Assessing the economic benefits of digital inclusion found that a digital inclusion project in a public housing estate in Victoria generated $5.9 million of benefits to residents and the broader community, through:
- Additional skills and access to new jobs
- Greater social and economic connectivity
- Greater transactional efficiencies
- Improvements to health and wellbeing.
Better preparing our least skilled workers to participate in a 21st century workforce has the potential to lift participation rates, enhance productivity and drive innovation.
Speaking at a recent Digital Inclusion Summit, Minister Conroy referred to a report by the Allen Consulting Group commissioned by the Department of Communications, Broadband, and the Digital Economy, which found gains to Australian household consumption of $148 a week in homes with an internet connection through time-saving activities.
The Minister is correct in saying that “It is not enough to just deliver access to the internet at home. It is also about ensuring access to high quality broadband-enabled services, and the skills and resources to maximise them.”
Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina put it succinctly:
Many people see technology as the problem behind the so-called digital divide. Others see it as the solution. Technology is neither. It must operate in conjunction with business, economic, political and social system.
By 2020, according to the National Digital Economy Strategy, Australia may well have one of the world’s most advanced broadband networks, but the risk we must avoid is allowing the most vulnerable sections of our society to be found on the wrong side of a digital divide.
Former Government adviser, working in the IT industry.
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