Affordability research has shown that nearly half of low-income earners can't afford internet at home, and an even higher percentage have no access to mobile internet.
Many of us think nothing of pulling out our smartphones to check a piece of trivia online, see what's happening on Twitter or get directions; but something many consider an integral — even necessary — part of day-to-day life is off limits to an unacceptable number of Australians.
A recent survey by Anglicare Victoria, funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), has found that 49.2 per cent of low-income earners seeking emergency relief and financial counselling have no access to home internet, and mobile internet is inaccessible to 56.1 per cent. Even lack of access to a home phone is high, at 38.2 per cent, with 45.2 per cent relying solely on a mobile phone.
Of those who use a mobile phone, 66 per cent experience difficulty paying their bill, with 61.7 per cent of pre-paid users running out of credit sooner than expected.
In addition, the survey of 325 Anglicare clients found that many of those who do have access to home internet have to rely on dial-up, particularly in non-metropolitan areas.
"Too many low-income earners are deprived of essential communications services, and while there will be some who choose not to be connected, it is clear from the data that many of the lowest-income Australians are not connected because they can't afford it," ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said. "It is time for a serious conversation about whether new low-income measures are required that go beyond existing measures, which only help people get a fixed phone line. We know that these days to be on an equal footing means access to both a mobile and the internet."
In addition to providing people with resources that may otherwise be difficult to access — such as job listings websites, free education programs and even the ability to work from home — internet access has been shown to improve household income. A study by Ericsson, released earlier this month, shows that upgrading from 0.5Mbps to 4Mbps increases monthly household income by US$46 per month, and upgrading from 4Mbps to 8Mbps increases monthly household income by US$120 per month.
Dr Sarah Wise, author of the report, added, "Lack of access to the internet was related to deprivation of other basic items, such as medical treatment, social contact and appropriate housing. Digital exclusion is an indicator of deep social and economic inequality."
ACCAN will be using this information to approach policy makers about implementing measures to address this problem, such as low-income discounts from service providers or rebates.