The future of digital inclusion
The National Digital Inclusion Summit was held at Parliament House in Canberra this week, with a mission to bring together community sector organisations to ensure that no one gets left behind in Australia’s digital life.
Digital inclusion is one of the pressing issues confronting Australian society today. It is at the heart of a socially inclusive society based in the information age where universal access to technology and connectivity is a fundamental infrastructure requirement of any civil and democratic society that espouses equal opportunity, equality and a fair go.
At a time when Australia’s largest ever infrastructural project – the National Broadband Network (NBN) is being rolled out, it is critical that the pivotal issues of digital inclusion are on-the-table and debated, such as affordability, opportunities, deficiencies and best case practices from which recommendations can be drawn to educate and inform key decision and policy makers.
The National Digital Inclusion Summit called for debate to set the agenda for better planning and for a road map of actions, to ensure an effective and sustainable digitally inclusive society.
The Summit was addressed by several keynote speakers including Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy; Malcolm Turnbull, Shadow Minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy; and digital inclusion advocate and practitioner, Andrew Mahar, Executive Director of Infoxchange.
"The people most likely to be left behind in the digital age are also those who are active users of community support services. Therefore to encourage community organisations to become digitally proficient will, not only improve service delivery but will also digitally embrace their clients," Andrew says.
The federal government is clear that digital inclusion is a core principal of their communication strategy, of which the NBN roll out and the new national digital economy strategy would directly impact. When announcing the strategy, Senator Conroy explained many of the benefits community organisations could expect from an increase acceptance and use of digital technologies in their organisations.
While the introduction of the NBN and national digital economy strategy goals show excellent opportunities to address the digital divide in our society, at the moment they are only that, opportunities. Much more needs to be done to ensure Australia's digital future.
In his speech, Andrew called for direct action on the issue of affordability and advocated the importance of establishing a social enterprise community telco in Australia. ‘If affordable internet connectivity is not made available, low socio-economic groups will be without access to some of society’s most important tools and digital exclusion will be the unacceptable consequence. ’
"A social enterprise community telco with access to NBNCo networks at an affordable price point would ensure health care card holders are not paying more than say, $10 per month for a basic internet service," Andrew says.
"Community organisations should also be able to access a high-quality service from the social enterprise community telco to allow them to carry out their work for the socio-economic groups that they serve," Andrew says.
It is clear that the technological revolution is changing the way we live and work. And no society can survive at the forefront of advanced nations without taking advantage of the communication technologies that emerge as the society develops.
However, we are still far from these goals. The recent Measure IT consumer report, commissioned by the Department of Human Services and produced by Infoxchange, showed that community organisations are vastly underutilising IT that is already available to them.
The 2010 Productivity Commission report highlights the complexities, "To take advantage of IT opportunities not-for-profits need the resources — funding and skills – to develop, purchase and implement IT solutions. They have to see that such investments will bring about not just productivity improvements but better outcomes for workers, members, participant or clients."
The National Digital Inclusion Summit helped create a healthy discussion on digital inclusion in Australia but firm action on the issue is still needed. A National Digital Inclusion Summit report and roadmap based on outcomes will now be produced.
Australia has the tools, knowledge, expertise and energy to enable opportunities for greater access to better education, health and employment to improve the social outcomes for all Australians through the benefits that a digitally inclusive society will provide. The National Digital Inclusion Summit provided a platform to ensure that digital inclusion remains core and at the heart of action.