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Guest post: The Internet should be for all New Zealanders, so why isn’t it?

27 January 2020
Internet at home

The fact you’re reading this article online is a good indicator you are “digitally included” - meaning that you’re able to access and use the Internet. This isn’t the case for all New Zealanders, for reasons that extend beyond just whether or not someone lives where it’s physically possible to connect to the Internet.

While connectivity issues have received a lot of attention and investment in recent years - think UFB roll out, Rural Broadband Initiative and the like - other modes of digital exclusion have been less prominent.

These include issues to do with a person’s digital skills, motivation (to use the Internet) and trust (in their ability to stay safe on the Internet). Along with access, these are the four pillars that need to be in place for a person to be considered digitally included.

With the focus on ‘access’ turning from connectivity (can you physically get an Internet connection?) to issues of affordability and also - for people with disabilities - accessible content, alarming new insights are emerging.

At the end of last year, Motu research for the Department Internal Affairs indicated a big digital inclusion gap for reasons of affordability and accessibility:

  • only 69% of New Zealanders who live in social housing report having access to the Internet at home or at work
  • only 71% of disabled people report having access to the Internet

And because people of all ages live in social housing and have disabilities, these numbers are also confronting for anyone tempted to think of digital exclusion as an issue mostly affecting seniors.

In point of fact, we are seeing stories emerge of how young people can be prevented from fully participating in and benefiting from the Internet because of issues to do with lack of access, as well as digital skills, trust or motivation.

In 2018, InternetNZ released a report in collaboration with the Vodafone Foundation, Out of the Maze, which shares stories from people of all ages and situations whose lives are adversely affected because of digital exclusion. One such story came from a young woman and former refugee who reported having to rely on her local library’s free WiFi to do schoolwork and speak with her family abroad. She said:

“[If I had Internet] I wouldn’t have to be going out rain or shine to do homework at the library, you know? I could adjust the times in a more suitable way to be able to talk to my family [at a time when they are awake].”

On the question of skills, young people are popularly understood to be ‘digitally native’ yet we know that workforce-ready digital skills can be under-developed in this age group - such as the ability and confidence to use email as a primary communication tool.

Equally, young people with low levels of trust in the Internet can experience inclusion barriers. Whereas this may manifest for older people as worries around phishing or cyber crime, for young people issues like cyber bullying and privacy may be more of a concern.

In either event, the outcome is members of society who are less able to participate in and benefit from the Internet. Which, when we think about how much of civic, social and economic life is now carried out online, is clearly not a good outcome for anyone.

It’s not all bad news. Great initiatives are underway across the country to help address the barriers that keep New Zealanders from being able to take part in the Internet.

Initiatives like Digital Natives Academy in Rotorua, that inspire and support young people to become digital creators, and initiatives like Code Club, that see volunteers working with school-age children across the country to teach coding skills in fun and inclusive ways.

Here at InternetNZ we are working on a project to shine a light on this work and help ‘inclusion agents’ (people who support digitally excluded people) better understand the range of help that exists and how to access it. This is applicable to private individuals wanting to help a family member or neighbour, as well as teachers, social workers and the like.

Also from our side in coming months, watch out for an announcement on the digital inclusion initiatives we will be funding this year. We have Stage 1 applications open now and we strongly encourage funding requests from digital inclusion initiatives.

Maybe you have a great proposal, and maybe you know someone else who does. Find out more and complete the easy online form by 30 Jan >>

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