Imagine a world where you can’t just jump online to apply for jobs, access services or communicate with friends or family.
That’s the reality for half a million New Zealanders stuck on the wrong side of a digital divide that’s been starkly revealed during lockdowns in the past year.
Now the PSA is ramping up its efforts to ensure all New Zealanders have access to the internet.
We’ve joined the call for the Government to implement Internet New Zealand’s five-point plan to address digital inclusion.
AN ONLINE WORLD
Internet access for all is also one of the goals of the PSA’s Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment campaign for universal basic services.
PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk says that’s because people who can’t use or access the internet struggle to participate fully in their community.
“The world has increasingly shifted online, and everyone should have the tools and skills to navigate that space.”
Internet NZ’s Kim Connolly-Stone is pleased a growing list of organisations and individuals are joining the call to make the internet and technology more accessible by implementing their five-point plan.
The plan calls for affordable connectivity, getting devices to those who can’t afford them, support for the newly connected, digital skills to aid people find new employment, and longer-term internet resilience.
Research commissioned by Internet NZ and the Vodafone Foundation has shown those experiencing digital exclusion are also experiencing social exclusion.
The Out of the Maze Report identified key barriers to access.
These ranged from financial to physical, trust and safety barriers. These barriers were only exacerbated by the escalating global pandemic.
LESSONS FROM LOCKDOWN
“Covid-19 has shown us just how important the internet is for everyday life. During lockdowns it allowed many of us to get the information we needed, communicate with family and friends, access government services, run businesses, work and study,” Kim says.
However, accessing the internet and the technology to do so wasn’t as simple as dusting off a laptop and turning the switch on.
The public services, education sector and business sprung into action to address the immediate need for households to be connected for work and study. But many are still left behind.
Data from the latest census conducted online found 11% of people did not have internet access at home.
For some groups the picture is even worse. An estimated 31% of those in social housing and 29% of disabled people do not have internet access.
Erin says the PSA would like to see internet access in social housing and paid for by the government.
LIBRARIES BRIDGE DIVIDE
"Thousands of PSA members work in our public libraries, and a big chunk of their day is often spent helping the digitally excluded to send emails or understand complex online applications,” she says.
PSA member Avril McKenzie is a network library and customer service assistant in Auckland who is all too familiar with the challenges people face in accessing the internet and the lack of devices in homes.
She says that there wouldn’t be a day where the library’s computers weren’t being used to access or send essential information.
“People are applying for jobs, accessing social services, printing important documents. In periods of lockdown, some of these people don’t have access to the internet or technology at all.”
Avril helps sign customers up to Skinny Jump, which aims to get more affordable internet access into homes in low-income areas through cheap wi-fi and a free modem.
“It really helps those who can’t normally afford an internet connection, it helps kids and adults continue their learning, and best of all they can access many of our library services online.”
But while programmes like Skinny Jump and other community internet provision schemes have helped, the Internet NZ five-point plan will take current efforts by government, business, and community to the next level so that all New Zealanders can step forward confidently into our increasingly digital future.
Nā Ta'ase Vaoga
- Affordable connectivity - whilst the government is strengthening our infrastructure, it’s now time to ensure everyone can access affordable internet no matter the circumstance.
- Getting devices to people who can’t afford them - there is the perception that devices are everywhere, however, there are still many who are accessing essential information through library internet services and using community services like Citizens Advice Bureau.
- Support for the newly connected - Where’s the any key? When we’re starting out, we need support so we can confidently navigate our new found connectivity. Setting up email, connecting to the internet, and accessing government services is only one part of the support which needs to be offered.
- Digital skills - Preparing a CV and applying for jobs with developed digital skills can open up opportunities for those needing new employment. With growing online activity, small businesses can also benefit from refined digital skills to maintain engagement with their customer base.
- Longer term internet resilience - the internet is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives and so as the infrastructure connects more regions, the need for faster, reliable internet will continue to grow.