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Report released on digital divide

Four year picture of online participation across Australia revealed.

Online participation is increasing across Australia, however gaps continue to exist between those who are digitally included and excluded, linked closely to social exclusion and disadvantage.

Today’s release of the second Australian Digital Inclusion Index reveals a four year picture of online participation across Australia, examining the three areas of online access, affordability and digital ability.

The Index was compiled by researchers at RMIT University, in partnership with the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology, Telstra and Roy Morgan Research.

Key findings of the Index include:

  • Digital inclusion is improving across Australia nationally and in all states and territories, with Australians doing more and spending more time online.
  • Digital inclusion gaps exist, Australians with low levels of income, education and employment are less digitally included – as well as Indigenous Australians and people with a disability.
  • The digital inclusion gaps are widening between older Australians and younger Australians, and those on low incomes compared to high income earners.
  • Affordability remains a challenge for those on a low income. While the value of online services has improved, people are adopting more services and spending more on them.
  • Digital ability remains a key area for national improvement, with skills and confidence identified as a significant barrier to Australians maximising the benefits of being online, especially older Australians.
  • Geographical disparities exist across Australia, with some areas showing higher digital inclusion than others, including capital cities compared with regional areas.
  • Mobile-only users are less digitally included than multi-platform users, with mobile-only consumers linked closely to socio-economic factors such as lower levels of income, education and employment.

Lead researcher, Professor Julian Thomas from RMIT’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre said there are still around three million Australians who are not online and as a result are missing out on the education, health, social, and financial benefits that come with connection.

“What we’ve found is that nationally, digital inclusion is improving, but there is much more work to be done,” said Professor Thomas. “We can see that there are particular groups who are more likely to be digitally excluded, and who lack the ability to maximise the benefits of being online. As an increasing number of essential services and essential communications move online, the divide is getting deeper.”

Professor Jo Barraket, Director of the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, said that the Index shows that digital inclusion follows some clear economic and social contours, with Australians who have lower levels of income, education and employment less likely to be online.

“Digital inclusion has become fundamental to participation in economic and social activities at a community, national and global level,” Professor Barraket said. “The Index is a vital information tool to shine a light on areas of exclusion and with four years of data we’re now able to get a longer term view of trends that are significant.”

Telstra’s General Manager of Digital Inclusion Nancie-Lee Robinson said that the Index was being used by Telstra partners across the community, government, education, and corporate sectors who are focused on addressing digital inclusion.

“We wanted to help create an information tool to inform not only our work in addressing digital inclusion – but that of others in this space. Over the past 12 months we know that our partners have been using this information to focus and refine their work to address digital inclusion gaps,” Robinson said.

“As we continue to head down the digital highway, being online is becoming a pre-requisite, not a choice, and those who are excluded will become significantly more marginalised. The Australian Digital Inclusion Index is about understanding the drivers of digital inclusion to help us bridge the gap.”

The Index is based on data from Roy Morgan Research, obtained from their ongoing Single Source survey of n=50,000 Australians per annum.

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