Bridging the Digital Divide – Improving Internet Access in Remote South Australian Areas

Despite the growing benefits of digitization, many people remain excluded from online opportunities. This is unsustainable and unfair, and must be addressed.

Developing and developed countries alike can help to bridge the digital divide by supporting policies, stable network providers, and robust cybersecurity. This can also be done by focusing on the social barriers that hinder technology adoption, such as poverty.

Physical Barriers

In a world increasingly dependent on internet, rural communities are struggling to keep up. The ability to access reliable broadband and digital services is critical for business and personal communications, online learning, banking and telehealth conferencing, and other essential services.

A range of factors contribute to digital divides, including physical barriers, affordability, and usage. These barriers can be caused by lack of infrastructure, social, economic, or cultural factors, and are complex and dynamic. The nature of the digital divide also varies by community, and can be exacerbated by differences in age, education level, gender, income, migration background and other socioeconomic circumstances.

The first and most significant barrier to bridging the digital divide is the availability of broadband infrastructure. This can be due to factors such as the presence of competing technology providers, a lack of infrastructure in remote areas, and a lack of government incentives to provide broadband infrastructure in marginalized communities.

Broadband is the most efficient way to access the internet and can be the key to opening up a wide range of social and economic opportunities. However, it is important to remember that even when the infrastructure exists, there can still be a digital gap between people who have access and those who do not.

Internet access has become a necessity for most aspects of modern life and is becoming increasingly necessary in the workplace, as more jobs require digital skills and the economy becomes more digitized. Despite this, many people are still unable to access the internet. This is known as the digital divide, and it affects individuals of all ages, races and genders, as well as people in rural or remote areas.

While the digital divide is often defined as a difference in internet access, research has expanded to include other aspects of the digital divide, including unequal use and engagement. This is known as the digital divide cascade and is a more nuanced and complex issue than just comparing access to usage.

While it may be challenging to close the digital gap, there are a number of ways that this can be done. These measures can include providing free Wi-Fi hotspots in local areas, providing digital literacy training, and partnering with local communities to expand access to the internet.

Social Barriers

The digital divide has become an integral part of the world in which we live. Many of our everyday activities, such as accessing information and services, are becoming more and more dependent on digital technology. It is therefore vital that everyone has the ability to use this technology effectively. Those who do not have the necessary skills and access to digital resources are at risk of being left behind and are increasingly isolated from the rest of society. As a result, the digital divide is becoming a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

The term ‘digital divide’ was originally used to describe the gap between those who had the capability of using new information and communication technologies and those who did not (Gunkel 2003). This concept has since evolved to include a wide range of factors, including social, economic and environmental conditions as well as attributes of technology such as performance and reliability. Moreover, it also extends to people’s ability to use digital resources in their daily lives (Burtch and Chan 2019).

Extant research shows that although physical access divides are closing in technologically and economically advanced settings, usage inequalities persist. These inequalities are linked to a variety of factors such as socioeconomic characteristics, personality traits and motivation as well as digital literacy skills (Lameijer et al. 2017). It is important to note that the attention of Information Systems researchers has gradually shifted from accessibility to use and this shift should continue to be promoted.

In remote areas, there are a number of barriers that prevent the development of digital infrastructure. These include a lack of affordable internet, the absence of digital devices and high costs for electricity. Furthermore, there are social barriers that inhibit the use of digital technology, such as the lack of community support and a lack of confidence in using the internet for health services and education.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for remote Australians to be able to seek and receive health services online. In addition, the shift to work from home and study from home is increasing the demand for reliable and fast internet access. Without sufficient access, people are unable to participate in the workforce and the education system, are disadvantaged in the recruitment process and are unable to keep up with their peers. This leads to ever-increasing economic disparities that can have long-term negative implications for an individual’s financial independence and quality of life.

Economic Barriers

As people’s lifestyles and work become increasingly digital, the economic barriers to internet access are becoming more significant. A lack of reliable broadband connectivity can mean that people are unable to take advantage of modern economic opportunities, including the ability to search for jobs and manage their businesses online. It can also lead to social isolation, as people are unable to connect with friends and family online or use services such as video conference calls.

As a result, the digital divide has become a serious issue that impacts the lives of many people around the world. It affects people of all ages, races, genders, and educational levels. However, there are some groups that are particularly disadvantaged by the divide. These include those living in rural areas and those with low incomes. These groups can be impacted by the digital divide in ways that are not experienced by other people.

For example, those with low incomes may find that it is difficult to afford the equipment required for internet connection and use. Additionally, those without access to education and training in how to use internet services might struggle to make the most of what they can find online.

This can lead to inequalities in engagement and use of digital platforms (Burtch and Chan 2019). Those with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to have access to the internet and have better communication skills, which could help bridge this gap.

Research based on household surveys such as the ABS HUIT survey indicates that rates of internet access vary significantly with household incomes. For example, households with the highest equivalised incomes are three times more likely to have home broadband internet than those in the lowest income quintile. People with lower incomes are also less likely to have mobile phone data plans, which could limit their ability to access the internet on a regular basis.

The digital divide has a significant impact on individuals, communities, and the economy. It can be overcome with the right infrastructure and support. Government initiatives can help, but it is important for the private sector to step in as well. Fortunately, there are companies that are working to address this problem. For example, Telstra Big Pond recently launched a program that allows people living in remote areas to connect to the Internet for the cost of a local call.

Education Barriers

While the global digital divide prevents certain populations from thriving in today’s technology-driven economy, there are steps that can be taken to bridge this gap. By ensuring that everyone has access to reliable, high-speed Internet service, citizens of all backgrounds can benefit from the opportunities this technology offers. To do this, government and private industry must collaborate to provide equal opportunities for all citizens to learn the skills necessary to use the latest digital technology.

According to a recent survey, the main barrier for students in rural areas is lack of reliable broadband connectivity adequate for remote education and telehealth. This means that despite the best efforts of schools and other organizations, some students are not getting the education and socialization needed to make the most out of this technology. This is a problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible to give children the best opportunity to thrive in today’s digital world.

Research shows that a person’s ability to use technology is influenced by a variety of factors including income, education level, and gender. For example, some people struggle to understand new technologies and are intimidated by them, while others have no desire to participate in a digital lifestyle. Fortunately, this divide can be fixed through targeted programs that offer educational support and financial aid to help people learn the benefits of using modern technology.

Despite the importance of online education and communication, many families struggle to afford internet services in remote areas. According to the Australian Council of Social Service, more than 200,000 adults and children are living below the poverty line and experiencing the effects of ‘digital poverty’. This is particularly true in rural and regional areas, where low income families may be forced to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting their opportunities to work from home or access digital learning resources.

Across Australia, there are significant differences in Internet access rates between major cities and rural and remote areas. For example, 66% of dwellings in major cities have access to the Internet compared to 42% of dwellings in very remote Australia. This disparity is largely due to the higher cost of services in regional and remote areas. Nevertheless, the underlying factors are complex and further research is required to understand these disparities.