Bridging the digital divide in 2021

If you are reading this blog, then there is a good chance that the Internet was one of the key tools that helped you cope with the events of 2020. While Australians sheltered inside through the lockdowns (and in some parts of the country, continue to) we turned to the Internet in record numbers to buy groceries, order food, stay connected with friends and loved ones, and entertain ourselves. The Internet also provided the lifeline that enabled many people to keep working even when they couldn’t get to their offices, and was vital for ensuring that kids could stay connected to their schools.

As frustrating as the COVID crisis has been, imagine what life would have been like had it happened in 2000, when much of Australia was still offline, and those who were online were struggling with dial-up Internet speeds?

Now consider that here in 2021, approximately 2.5 million Australians are still not online. That’s 2.5 million people who are not buying groceries online, or watching Netflix, or Zooming their friends and family. That number also includes an unknown number of people who were not working from home last year, and most concerningly, a lot of children who were not participating in online education.

As much as we might take the Internet for granted these days, for some Australians it is still expensive (both in terms of access costs, and the price of devices needed to connect to it), and for many, hard to use. There are many reasons why a person might be one of the 2.5 million, but principle amongst them are their economic situation, age, educational background, physical ability, and digital skill level.

And as more and more of Australian society moves online – and takes our social discourse into online platforms – the less of a voice this group has in social debate.

We call this the Digital Divide, and while it is a topic I remember writing about in the mid-1990s, it is well and truly present in Australia today.

Thankfully, there are organisations out there who are committed to closing this Divide, many of whom are represented in the membership of the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance. It’s also been heartening to see that some commercial organisations are also starting to realise the extent of the Digital Divide, and begin looking at it as both a social obligation and a commercial opportunity.

Recently I had the chance to check back in on the state of Australia’s Digital Divide, and the work that is being undertaken to bridge it, through my writing for CMO. Click here to read the complete article.