Background on the Digital Divide

Almost all societies throughout the world now employ information and communication technologies. It is now helpful for social contact, banking, shopping, and education. Even in the industrialized world, not everyone has access to this advantage. Some members of society get isolated as a result of the incorporation into the ICT industry's challenges. The digital divide—a gap between those who have access to ICT and those who do not—is a result of this exclusion and inequality. People on the wrong side of the digital divide lack basic internet skills and have no access to the information and services that might better their lives socially and economically. Various factors cause the digital divide in Australia; there are initiatives in place to address this gap, but policy-makers need to re-examine them to expedite the process of digital inclusion.

Background on the Digital Divide

Information and communication technology has been useful to the economy and individual lives for several decades. In this digital age, the internet plays a pivotal role in the exchange of information and services. It has made transactions easy with many businesses choosing to set up online. People do not need to go to banks because they can manage their accounts through the internet. Students learn about various topics through the resources available online. The government has also come up with ways to serve its people through online platforms. The internet makes it easy for people to keep in touch through social media and other communication channels. All these examples indicate the primary role that the internet plays in the society in this digital age.

Unfortunately, there remains a significant percentage of Australians who have not yet experienced the benefits mentioned above due to internet connection problems. This divides the country digitally between those who are information rich and those who lack this privilege. The digital divide prevents the affected individuals from using the internet to better their lives either through education, socially, or professionally.

Various factors contribute to the digital divide in Australia. These factors include geography, income levels, education, digital literacy, disability, and language. The geography of an area determines whether the region will be on the digital map or not. The regional areas and other remote locations are unlikely to have fast speed internet or any internet at all. People in metropolitan areas have access to better broadband services and pay lesser as compared to their rural counterparts. The distance from the large cities, which act as the epicentre of the technology services, results in an increase in costs, as the providers set up the infrastructure needed for internet access (Park et al. 2015, p. 3631). Some of these areas are disadvantaged because the service providers may be unwilling to upgrade the infrastructure laid down by the government to provide internet access to remote locations.

Park et al. (2015) explain that as the country transitions from the copper wire-based networks to the fibre optics network, many providers may be unwilling to service these old systems, as they await the arrival of the fibre optics in the remote areas. Since copper networks deteriorate, rural areas are forced to deal with inadequate infrastructure that excludes them digitally. These conditions contribute to the digital divide between those in the cities and those in rural Australia.

Income levels also play a significant role in contributing to the digital divide. People with low income are unable to buy computers and other digital devices needed to go online. These people ca not afford to pay for the internet provision services as well. According to the Australian Bureau’s of Statistics study on household use of information technology in 2014-2015, 16% of Australian households lack internet access at home due to financial constraints (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016). These families are excluded from activities that require internet access while at home. Students are unable to do their assignments and have to rely on public libraries or the internet connection in their schools. These students are disadvantaged and miss opportunities that others from more privileged backgrounds enjoy.

The lack of education also leads to digital exclusion. People who completed high school and did not pursue further education are more likely to shun computer use as compared to those who continued their education. The latter had to rely on computers and the internet to do their assignments and conduct research, therefore, increasing their confidence regarding internet use. People with limited education may have a hard time grasping the concepts involved when using computers or other digital devices.

The disabled people in society are excluded from digital experiences due to their special needs. Many software and hardware developers fail to consider people with disability when designing devices. The disabled, such as the blind, have to rely on expensive innovations to utilise these devices. Some do not have the financial opportunities to do this and, therefore, opt out of using the devices all together. When the developers do not make deliberate efforts to include features in their gadgets that accommodate special needs, they set the stage for a digital divide. Lastly, language barriers can contribute towards digital exclusion. Most of the services on the internet are offered in English. This can lock out people who are not familiar with the language such as the indigenous communities and immigrants.

Initiatives in Place to Address the Divide

The government and private organisations have launched numerous initiatives to bridge the digital divide in the country. One such initiative is the National Broadband Network (NBN) which rolled out in 2009 to connect Australian homes and businesses to the broadband network. This program aimed at connecting 93% of homes and businesses to the FTTP network and 7% getting the connection through Wi-Fi and satellite services. The ambitious drive was designed to ensure that the whole country has access to an internet connection so that no one is left behind as the world gets digitised. This idea was well-received by Australia’s population that lives in the regional areas. They saw it as an answer to their perennial internet connectivity problems.

The NBN started out as a cheaper alternative to other broadband providers. Since it is government owned, the infrastructure could be subsidised so that the consumer would benefit from lower prices. This approach would eventually solve the affordability problems that many low-income households cited as a barrier to the use of internet. This initiative has, however, fallen short of its goals. The NBN is still out of reach for many due to the constant increase in the cost of this network (Australian Council of Social Services 2016, p. 4).

Infoxchange and Australian Post came together to form a program known as Go Digi designed to improve digital literacy in the country. This program is aimed at supporting people who face challenges when they try to access digital services due to lack of knowledge. These people include the older generation, those living in remote parts of the country, indigenous communities, and those facing language barriers. Another initiative focused on the same is Broadband for Seniors. This program provides the older demographic with the necessary skills required for building confidence when using technology. Volunteers teach seniors to grasp the technology concepts so that they no longer feel isolated by technology.

With a focus on marginalised people, Broadband for the Bush Alliance took up the initiative to improve ICT in remote areas so that the residents can be part of the digital transformation. Most of these regions are not due to benefit from the broadband services distributed by the federal government because of the distance from the large cities. Instead of being left behind as the rest of the country moves forward, Broadband for the Bush Alliance improves their digital literacy levels and upgrades their ICT infrastructure.

Disadvantaged students from low-income households have not been left behind in the effort to bridge the gap. The Smith Family, a children’s charity organisation, helps make their education worthwhile. 91% of children from wealthy households can access the internet at home while only 68% from poor backgrounds can do the same (The Smith Family n.d.). The disadvantaged children benefit from this organisation’s initiative to supply them with refurbished computers and internet access at home for a year. These efforts help put the needy children on the same level as their privileged counterparts.

According to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index of 2016, based on data collected over three years, the digital inclusion in the country has increased from 54.5 in 2014 to 52.7 (Thomas et al. 2016, p. 5). This finding suggests that Australia is bridging the digital divide, but more needs to be done to ensure that everyone comes on board. The index also indicated that while all the states scored relatively well in digital inclusion, Tasmania was regressing making it the country’s least digitally included state with a score well below the national average (p. 24). The index sheds light on the areas that need improvement so that the country can be highly inclusive. It informs the policy makers that there are more people using ICT facilities, but the divide persists.


The indigenous Australian communities posted a low score on the inclusion index. This score shows that more needs to be done to get them on the same level as the rest of the country. These people live in remote areas which prevent the establishment of proper ICT infrastructure and, subsequently, the use of the internet. To counter this, some organisations established public internet facilities to motivate people to use digital devices. Even with these amenities, very few used the internet. Recent research has found out that to bridge the gap faster and promote digital inclusion, the indigenous communities prefer to have individual devices (Swinburne University of Technology 2016). Having personal devices will motivate them to go online often. The government and other investors need to find ways to supply devices to these people at an affordable price. Once they do this, coupled with better internet connections and improved digital literacy, the indigenous communities will score better on the inclusion index.

Digital ability needs to increase at a faster rate than what has been witnessed lately. There are already programs in place to improve the core competencies for those lacking in digital literacy and have a negative attitude towards ICT. These programs are not reaching everyone who needs them and, therefore, more efforts need to be directed towards this. One area to examine is public libraries which are spread out across every state, even in remote locations, and are traditionally known as centres for information and education. These centres can be used to increase literacy among people with few digital skills through inclusion programs (Wood 2016, p. 8). Where other literacy programs fall short, the libraries can pick up and exacerbate the effort to bridge the digital gap. These institutions can act as a technology meeting point where people of all ages, ethnicities, education levels, socio-economic backgrounds, and skill levels come to learn more about ICT and increase their confidence when going online.

The libraries are a perfect place for digital education because the personnel have always had the responsibility to act as custodians of knowledge and would be willing to share with others. Additionally, some of the existing literacy programs are offered online and not all the people can access the internet by themselves to sign up for these classes. The libraries would provide the required infrastructure and the much needed physical support where disadvantaged people can spend more time online and have access to social media, job opportunities, and government services.

Improving the hardware and software of digital devices for people with disability will help to increase digital inclusion (Atkinson, Black, and Curtis 2008, p. 489). Many developers have not picked up on this suggestion leading to the isolation of disabled people. The blind could benefit from computers or tablets with voice features. It will make them more comfortable going online on their own. At the moment, some have to rely on another person to read out what they are looking for on the internet. As people age, they develop complications that could lead to disability. When their eyesight deteriorates, the ageing population can still benefit from devices with specialised screens and larger fonts. These small changes can go a long way in including people with disability in the digital transformation.


Australia still faces an uphill task in bridging the digital divide. As the digital inclusion score index increases, it is important to keep people on the other side of the divide in mind so that they are not left behind as the rest of the country moves forward. There are already initiatives in place to expedite the process of inclusion. However, the policymakers need to re- examine these efforts and make adjustments so that the whole process moves along even faster.


Atkinson, J., Black, R., and Curtis, A. (2008). Exploring the digital divide in an Australian regional city: a case study of Albury. Australian Geographer, 39(4): 479-493.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). Household use of information technology, Australia, 2014-15. [Online] Available at [Accessed 1 Jun. 2017]

Australian Council of Social Service. (2016). Staying connected: The impact of digital exclusion on people living on low-incomes and the community organisations that support them, Redfern, N.S.W. [Online] Available at [Accessed 1 Jun. 2017]

Park, S., Freeman, J., Middleton, C., Allen, M., Eckermann, R., and Everson, R. (2015). The multi-layers of digital exclusion in rural Australia. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2015 48th Hawaii International Conference, pp. 3631-3640.

Swinburne University of Technology (2016). Closing the digital divide for Australia’s indigenous communities, Swinburne University of Technology. [Online] Available at [Accessed 1 Jun. 2017]

The Smith Family. (n.d.). Without access to computers and the internet, disadvantaged students are getting left behind. [Online] Available at [Accessed 1 Jun. 2017]

Thomas, J., Barraket, J., Ewing, S., MacDonald, T., Mundell, M., and Tucker, J. (2016). Measuring Australia’s digital divide: the Australian digital inclusion index 2016’, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, for Telstra. [Online] Available at [Accessed 1 Jun. 2017]

Wood, W. (2016). Digital equity and social inclusion: exploring the role that Queensland public libraries and effective digital policy play in bridging the digital divide. State Library of Queensland. [Online] Available at [Accessed 1 Jun. 2017]

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