The digital exclusion blues: down and out of touch

New research shows low-income earners are deprived of vital communications services such as basic internet access.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) says the survey findings show that new ideas are needed on improving Australian households’ access to communications services.

The Anglicare Victoria research, funded by ACCAN, found almost half of those on low incomes can’t afford home internet and 56.1 per cent don’t access internet on
their mobile.

“Too many low income earners are deprived of essential communications services and while there will be some who choose not to be connected, it is clear from the data that many of the lowest-income Australians are not connected because they can’t afford it,” said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin.

“It is time for a serious conversation about whether new low-income measures are required that go beyond existing measures which only help people get a fixed phone line.

“We know that these days to be on an equal footing means access to both a mobile and the internet.”

ACCAN will use this latest research to engage with industry and policy makers and start a discussion about options to address the problems this and other research
is revealing.

Report author Dr Sarah Wise said: “Lack of access to the internet was related to deprivation of other basic items such as medical treatment, social contact and appropriate housing. Digital exclusion is an indicator of deep social and economic inequality.”

A recent Ericsson study found that better internet access helps drive economic growth by improving learning and teleworking. An increase in internet speeds from 4Mbps to 8Mbps was found to increase monthly income by $US120 a month, while an increase from 0.5-4Mbps would yield a $US46 monthly income increase.

ACCAN believes any discussion around this issue should consider whether retail service providers are being sufficiently encouraged to implement low-income measures.

In March, ACCAN hosted its first affordability seminar in Melbourne attended by 60 academics, consumers, service providers and policy makers.

Evidence presented at the seminar showed that despite improving over recent years, there is a marked and concerning percentage of homes with no internet access in the lower income brackets. Remote Indigenous households are 76% less likely to have internet access than non-Indigenous metropolitan households.

Professor Peter Gerrand told the seminar that any improvement in affordability would result in net economic benefits to Australia of a more connected population, with savings in government service provision, infrastructure, and transport among other areas.

Meanwhile, an ACCAN grant recipient, the University of Sydney’s Digital Cultures program, is currently studying the use of mobile communication among 50-100 families experiencing homelessness.