Bridging the digital divide

As our reliance on digital ways of working grows and COVID-19 restrictions continue to isolate many Australians, particularly in Victoria, addressing digital inequality has never been more important.

How do we enable all Australians to have affordable access to the internet, and the ability to proficiently utilise it?

Bridging the digital divide

TCP had the pleasure of speaking with Robert Morsillo, Digital Inclusion Senior Specialist at Telstra and Jess Perrin, Head of Social Innovation & Digital Inclusion at Infoxchange about digital inclusion and how COVID-19 has impacted our reliance on a digital world.

They highlighted the continuing need for significant change at scale in order to reach digital equality, and that this can be best achieved through robust cross-sector collaboration, the establishment of a national digital equality vision, and defining the point at which the internet should be regarded as an essential service.

This aims to build on the amazing work already undertaken by many support organisations working at the community level.

Defining Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is multi-faceted and broader than just whether an individual has access to technology. Telstra’s Australian Digital Inclusion Index considers and measures three dimensions of digital inclusion – Access, Affordability and Digital ability – to provide insight into the levels of digital inclusion in Australia. It notes that in 2016-17 there were 2.5 million Australians who can be considered as ‘offline’ (ABS). These volumes, and the isolation inherent to COVID-19 restrictions have further surfaced the urgency in addressing this inequality and closing the digital divide.

Seniors, low income families and the not-for-profit & small-medium business sector are three significant cohorts within this impacted group.

For seniors, the challenges around not having or not being able to use devices has limited their access to support, services and connectivity with others.

The big issue for low income families is affordability. This also puts school children at a significant disadvantage in the recent shift to remote learning.

Many not-for-profit & small-medium business have shown lower rates of general digital adoption, with the nature of their work more likely to lean towards traditional face to face case work instead of digital interaction.

Bridging the Divide

For many organisations, the rapid transition from traditional face-to-face to predominately digital interactions due to COVID-19 has resulted in customers and clients who are older or who have lower technological capabilities finding themselves at a sudden disadvantage with respect to how they can remain connected and engaged.

Jess highlighted that during COVID-19 community led initiatives such as Digital springboard have been extremely important in helping people connect and adapt to the digital landscape.  

Service providers have also offered technology-based help and support during COVID-19. For example, Telstra offered extra data allowances, internet connectivity for school children, additional bill assistance and other programs such as a concessional Connected Family internet offer, supported by nbn co, and digital literacy resources such as Tech Savvy Seniors. More than 2 million customers have taken advantage of such support in recent months, demonstrating an ample appetite to upskill and adapt where there are opportunities to do so.

Finally, Jess stressed when thinking about digital skills, we really need to meet people where they are.

There's no point in designing a whiz bang digital skills program that's going to take you from zero to 100. You have to try to think about how to meet people's current knowledge and needs. Think about how to take a step back from how we are currently working and focus on how to collaborate with partners and community members to try and help them at the point where they are in their digital journey.

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