Built environment | Urban Planning | Cities

Tasmanian digital inclusion falling behind

Australia’s overall level of digital inclusion is improving but Tasmania remains the lowest scoring state in our index alongside South Australia, RMIT University, Director Social Change Enabling Capability Platform, Professor Julian Thompson has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking at the Digital inclusion event in Hobart, Professor Thomas outlined results found from the latest Digital Inclusion Index report.

“The index is based on scores out of 100. We break this problem down to look at it with three critical dimensions,” he said.

“We assign scores on the basis of digital access based on digital infrastructure, affordability of online services and people’s digital ability.

“The index compromises of all those things.

“What’s important for us is to identify these spatial variations. Just at a state level…there are considerable variances and gaps.

“What is concerning for us is that the Tasmanian figures having recovered somewhat from what was a worrying decline last year, are still not keeping up with the increase that we see in the rest of the country.”

Based on the dimensions, Professor Thomas said that access was continually improving in the state. This included the internet services, devices and the amount of data they can access.

“When we look at digital ability, we can see that is pretty flat. So when it comes to digital ability, which is about the skills that they have, the capacity, their confidence to do stuff online, that’s concerning that that’s not improving,” he said.

“That’s where we see really significant opportunity.

“Affordability is the other real area of concern because…that is declining.

“That doesn’t mean that data is costing more; it means that we are spending more of our incomes proportionately on internet access.

“The cost of data is declining, but we need to buy more and more of it, because it is becoming more and more part of critical life.

“It’s important because…communications are now essential. Government services, information about health, access to education and training, access to the labour market, all those things really depend on people’s connections. 

“An emerging area of interest that has come out of (the index)…we are looking at a substantial and increasing number of Australians who rely entirely on mobile devices to access the internet.

“There’s been a bit of a sense…that mobile users have never really been a problem in relation to digital inclusion because we have this idea that they are very well connected, intensive users of smart phones.

“But what we find when we look at the group that only uses mobile devices – and this is now more than one in five Australians – we find that digital inclusion scores are dramatically lower than they are for the rest of the population. We find there are more of them, among those lower income, less educated groups. 

“Mobile only users have access to less data…and they’re paying a lot more for it. Affordability is a real factor…and what they can do online is also rather limited.

“It’s an area we need to look at.”

Professor Thompson said that while the Digital Inclusion Index doesn’t answer all the questions, it may provide guidance and direction for further research. 

Also speaking at the event was Tasmanian Minister for Information Technology and Innovation, the Hon. Michael Ferguson who provided an overview of the Tasmanian Government’s digital agenda.

“Our Tasmanian digital results…reflect broader demographic and socioeconomic issues, that are pretty well understood and certainly have been long-standing and deeply entrenched in our society. I don’t accept that that is our future though,” he said. 

Mr Ferguson said positive progression for the State included the gap between Hobart and the other capital cities, with small but notable improvements in increasing the digital inclusion score of the most digitally disadvantaged…only just below the national figure for the same cohort.

“Tasmania is also now the most NBN connected state or territory in the country,” he said.

“(But) Tasmania’s NBN progress doesn’t mean much, if people don’t know how to use it.

“We believe our efforts to tackle the root causes of digital inclusion – unemployment, low income, poor educational outcomes and poor literacy will ensure our community can unlock the benefits of this improved technology and access.

“The government has implemented a job creation package and we’ve developed that in partnership with industry and the social sector to help the private sector create over 5000 new jobs and its tracking well.”

Mr Ferguson also discussed education initiatives which include funding towards educating children in coding while supporting teachers to run those programs, as well as the Active ageing plan to improve confidence and digital skills for the elderly.