As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, many rural and remote communities realized they needed reliable internet access. This is now considered a basic need with some organisations advocating for it to be a human right.
People who do not have internet access face barriers to modern economic opportunities. These divides affect all age groups, race, gender and income levels.
Access to Information
In Australia, the digital divide most severely affects rural and regional communities. This is largely due to the high cost of providing network infrastructure in remote areas, as well as low demand for services in these areas. For example, a large proportion of rural households still do not have access to broadband or mobile phone data plans. The poorer socioeconomic status of people in these areas also reduces their willingness to use these new technologies, making them more susceptible to the effects of the digital divide.
A lack of access to the internet prevents individuals from connecting with their communities, learning new skills and advancing in life. It also makes it difficult for businesses to compete and attract customers online. This has a negative impact on local economy and is one of the key factors contributing to regional disadvantage.
Those who experience the digital divide are more likely to be unemployed, less educated and live in lower income neighbourhoods. This combination of factors increases their need to have access to digital tools and can lead to higher levels of social disconnection and inequality in society. In addition, many rural residents do not have the financial capacity to afford a broadband connection, even if it were available at their address.
In order to close the digital divide, a range of different approaches need to be taken. This includes reducing the price of technological devices and increasing the availability of affordable internet connections. It also involves developing educational programs and implementing policies that promote digital literacy. The development and humanitarian organization Plan International, for example, works with girls in impoverished regions to help them become proficient at using digital technology, while also promoting gender equality and online safety.
As the world becomes more digitized, education and health services require reliable internet connectivity. Without it, students and patients lose out on the opportunities provided by cloud computing, at-home schooling, and telehealth conferencing. And as businesses increasingly rely on online systems, people without access will find it difficult to compete in the job market and keep up with their peers.
This digital divide affects a wide range of people, but some groups are more at risk than others. This includes people living in rural areas, minorities, and those with lower socioeconomic status. They tend to be less likely to have the resources and skills needed to use technology and have a harder time getting broadband connections in their homes. They also face barriers like a lack of education on how to use technology, language obstacles, and affordability.
A common way to bridge the digital divide is by providing a sustainable service that is affordable and available in local communities. It should also be designed with the specific needs and context of each community in mind. For example, remote Aboriginal communities have unique requirements for their internet services. They often don’t want to travel long distances for a job or a service, and they need their own local network so that they can connect with specialists and their families at home.
The digital divide can exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities. It can prevent people from learning and staying connected with their families, communities and colleagues. It can even lead to isolation, as many people rely on social media and other online tools to stay in touch with family members and friends who live far away.
In remote Australia, internet access is essential to the delivery of vital services such as banking, education and telehealth conferencing. A reliable internet connection is also required for the successful operation of many businesses. These factors combine to make areas without the required digital infrastructure unattractive to business investment.
In addition to providing access to online information, telecommunications technologies enable remote communities to stay connected with one another. In some cases, these connections are lifesaving. For example, the ability to receive real-time emergency medical advice via telehealth conferencing can dramatically increase survival rates for people who are seriously injured or ill.
However, the benefits of digital inclusion go far beyond connectivity. In a rapidly changing economy, it is critical that all people have the technology and skills necessary to participate in the new economy. This is especially true for vulnerable groups who are often excluded from opportunities due to their lack of access to the latest technology. These groups include women, children, older people, demobilised military personnel, people with disabilities and a range of minority ethnicities.
It’s important that all information and communication technology stakeholders – from government agencies to private companies – work together to help close the digital divide. This includes promoting awareness of the digital divide and encouraging communities to take action to improve their own online literacy.
The causes of the digital divide are complex and can impact different groups in differing ways. However, it’s possible to make progress in reducing the gap by developing a combination of solutions that touch on accessibility, affordability and digital literacy. For instance, addressing affordability may involve introducing programmes that allow households to earn credit towards the cost of internet connectivity, or integrating digital training into programmes designed to deliver economic empowerment.
As the world becomes more digitized, businesses need access to reliable internet to thrive. This includes access to customer data, supply chain information, and other tools that would otherwise be inaccessible without a strong internet connection. Without a strong connection, a business may fail to reach its potential or be unable to compete with companies that have a reliable and efficient connection.
Even with adequate infrastructure, people who live in remote areas face challenges when it comes to internet access. For example, they might not be able to afford broadband or a home computer and could lack the skills necessary to use these technologies. In addition, they might be reluctant to use these tools because of cultural norms or lack of interest.
However, it is possible to address these issues. A few ways to help bridge the digital divide include promoting digital literacy, improving connectivity and providing technical support for users of new technologies. It is also important to encourage digital inclusion and support digital skills for the whole community.
In addition, businesses can help close the gap by supporting digital initiatives that benefit their community. For instance, they can offer employees the opportunity to work remotely or provide training and support for digital tools. They can also encourage their employees to work on projects that benefit the local community.
The digital divide is a global issue that impacts everyone. In many countries, the gap is caused by a lack of access to digital technology and high-speed internet services. This can affect education, health, and business. It can also lead to social isolation, as people who do not have internet access cannot stay connected with their families and friends.
Those on the wrong side of the digital divide are unable to access the wealth of information, services and opportunities that the internet provides. In some cases, those living in underserved communities are unable to even afford basic broadband internet services that would allow them to work from home or access telehealth.
The lack of affordability can stem from a number of factors, including the cost of online devices and connectivity, the price of ongoing services like broadband and Wi-Fi, the availability of technical instruction to help people use these devices and the internet, and other costs like power and water. The affordability issue is compounded for low-income households, especially those in rural areas.
Additionally, there are cultural and social issues that can hinder a person’s willingness to embrace new technology. For example, in many cultures, women and girls are not encouraged to use computers and the internet, and they may be discouraged from learning how to use them.
However, addressing these challenges is possible with help from the community. Organisations that work with disadvantaged people can provide digital literacy training to their members and encourage them to access the internet for educational and employment purposes.
In Australia, there are many initiatives that can be taken to reduce the digital divide. One way is to prioritise rural areas in the nbn(tm) rollout. Currently, a large majority of rural Australians have access to the internet due to this, but not everyone has the same level of access. Those that are not connected can use the nbn(tm) checker to see if they are in an area where the service is available. If they are not, they can also access Telstra Big Pond for a cheaper rate through the Points of Presence that have been set up in remote areas.