Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019 | Digital divide greater for older and poorer Australians

Bill Whipp, Peter Ralph and Colin Phillips at the Busnet Club at Bussselton Senior's Citizen Centre help older residents navigate digital technology.
Bill Whipp, Peter Ralph and Colin Phillips at the Busnet Club at Bussselton Senior's Citizen Centre help older residents navigate digital technology.

One group helping bridge the gap of Australia's digital divide is the Busnet Computer Club at the Busselton Senior Citizen's Centre.

The club assists older residents learn and navigate anything and everything digital.

The latest Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019 report found Australians aged 65 years and over were one group who were the least digitally included meaning they did not have access to online technology.

Busnet Computer Club coordinator Peter Ralph said most people who went to their club were confused about email and photo technology.

"It is frightening and daunting for older people when they have a computer and do not know how to turn it on," he said.

Mr Ralph said the internet was so vast it could be confusing for older people to navigate and they were often reluctant to use a computer in case they did something wrong.

He said not having access to digital technology could be socially isolating because the world was becoming increasingly digitised.

"You have to have it, it is not a case of you don't really want it," he said.

"No matter what problems people experienced they can come in to the Busnet Computer Club and get advice whether it be a computer, mobile phone or tablet, they can be taught here.

"We teach people how to use programs such as Facebook, Messenger, Microsoft Office etc.

"Once people come to the club they find using digital technology is not as hard as they are led to believe, they get good advice here and they are happy once they leave.

"All of a sudden they can correspond with their grandchildren that is the big thing, emails and photos of the grand kids, it opens up a new world."

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019 was launched by Telstra group executive Carmel Mulhern who said as more services were digitised, digital inclusion was more important than ever.

"Technology and connectivity are an essential part of staying in touch and there are still many of our community who are missing out on the vital benefits they need because they can't connect," she said.

"There are 800,000 Australians who don't have an email address, about 1.3 million households not connected to the internet, and one in 10 who don't have a smart phone.

"Our organisational purpose is to build a connected future so everyone can thrive. The word 'everyone' speaks to our core responsibility to help deliver the opportunity connectivity creates."

While the South West scored 59.9, and was above the national rural average of 55.7 there were still many groups in society who faced barriers to accessing digital technology.

Socio-economic factors such as low income, low education and unemployment limited people's ability to access the online world.

Salvation Army South West captain Mark Schatz said financial hardship and living within tight budget constraints forced people to cut back in essential elements of life.

"Technology is one of those essentials that is embedded into our life at all levels, including education," he said.

"The other issue for many families is keeping up with the rapid advancement of technology changes. For many it is just out of reach, creating a larger divide between the haves and have nots.

"Particularly for children, where poverty exists, they can quickly become aware of the depravities that divide them from others when it comes to technology.

"It cannot only be a source of embarrassment or feeling inferior but also can impact the quality of education through limited accessibility in technology."

Mr Schatz said there were many adults that could not afford to have a computer, tablet or desktop at home or the ongoing cost of a internet connection.

"This means that all their business needs have to be completed on a small screen that could be cracked. This situation makes performing the simple tasks required for living that much longer and harder."

RMIT's Digital Ethnography Research Centre professor Julian Thomas said digital inclusion was a complex and persistent problem.

"The index provides a vital evidence base, which can help us develop positive strategies to ensure all Australians gain the benefits of the digital economy."

A spokesperson for the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts said delivering ubiquitous, reliable digital infrastructure for all Australians was a key priority for the Federal Government.

"Today more than 5.9 million households and businesses are connected to the NBN and 10.2 million are able to connect," the spokesperson said.

"The most recent ACCC Communications Market Report 2017-18 has found that affordability of NBN services is improving, with the real price of NBN services falling by 4 per cent in 2017-18 compared to 2016-17.

"The government also continues to invest in its Mobile Black Spot Program to provide access to critical telecommunications infrastructure across rural and regional areas."