Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019 | Digital divide greater for older and poorer Australians

Electronic age: Bill Whipp, Peter Ralph and Colin Phillips from the Busnet Computer Club at Busselton Senior's Citizen Centre are helping older residents navigate digital technology. Photo: Emma Kirk.
Electronic age: Bill Whipp, Peter Ralph and Colin Phillips from the Busnet Computer Club at Busselton Senior's Citizen Centre are helping older residents navigate digital technology. Photo: Emma Kirk.

Older Australians are being encouraged to learn about online technology in an effort to bridge the gap of the country's digital divide.

The latest Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019 report found Australians aged 65 years and over were one group who were the least digitally included, meaning they did not have access to online technology.

The report was launched by Telstra group executive Carmel Mulhern who said, as more services were digitised, digital inclusion was more important than ever.

"Technology and connectivity are an essential part of staying in touch and there are still many of our community who are missing out on the vital benefits they need because they can't connect," she said.

"There are 800,000 Australians who don't have an email address, about 1.3 million households not connected to the internet, and one in 10 who don't have a smart phone.

"Our organisational purpose is to build a connected future so everyone can thrive. The word 'everyone' speaks to our core responsibility to help deliver the opportunity connectivity creates."

In the South-West, the Busnet Computer Club is assisting older residents to navigate the electronic world at the Busselton Senior Citizen's Centre.

Coordinator Peter Ralph said most people who went to their club were confused about email and photo technology.

"It is frightening and daunting for older people when they have a computer and do not know how to turn it on," he said.

Mr Ralph said the internet was so vast it could be confusing for older people to navigate and they were often reluctant to use a computer in case they did something wrong.

He said not having access to digital technology could be socially isolating because the world was becoming increasingly digitised.

"You have to have it, it is not a case of you don't really want it," he said.

"No matter what problems people experienced they can come in to the Busnet Computer Club and get advice whether it be a computer, mobile phone or tablet, they can be taught here.

"We teach people how to use programs such as Facebook, Messenger, Microsoft Office etc.

"Once people come to the club they find using digital technology is not as hard as they are led to believe, they get good advice here and they are happy once they leave.

"All of a sudden they can correspond with their grandchildren which is the big thing. Emails and photos of the grand kids opens up a new world."

The report found there were still many groups in society who faced barriers to accessing digital technology with socio-economic factors like low income or education limiting people's ability to access the online world.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts said delivering ubiquitous, reliable digital infrastructure for all Australians was a key priority for the federal government.

"Today more than 5.9 million households and businesses are connected to the NBN and 10.2 million are able to connect," the spokesperson said.

"The most recent ACCC Communications Market Report 2017-18 has found that affordability of NBN services is improving.

"The government also continues to invest in its Mobile Black Spot Program to provide access to critical telecommunications infrastructure across rural and regional areas."