Low-income Australians unacceptably internet deprived

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CNET Editor

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

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.

(Internet image by Stuart Caie, CC BY 2.0)

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.

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SinSA posted a comment   

This article makes it sound as if internet access is some kind of basic human right, like food and water!
Not to mention that they are basing their statistics on a survey of just 325 people - in a nation of over 22 Million...
What planet are these people living on? I don't think it's the same one I'm on!


Michelle Starr posted a reply   

According to the UN, it is: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/06/united-nations-report-internet-access-is-a-human-right.html

I'm really baffled, though, by the number of people here who want to argue against this. Why are you so bothered by the notion of a service being made more accessible? Isn't providing resources to low income Australians a good thing?

Pretty disappointed in the response.


JamesM11 posted a comment   

I really didn't know that "check a piece of trivia online, see what's happening on Twitter" was a "necessary" part of day to day life as the article states in it's first paragraph. So I guess the list of essentials has now become "food, water, shelter, trivia, Twitter". More seriously though I've never read such an idiotic assertion before. People all over the world are dying via malnutrition and CNET is calling a national emergency over lack of Twitter access.


DaveC5 posted a comment   

When my mother was a single parent who could only work part-time because she had to look after me there'd be no way we could afford a connection.

She was neither a drinker nor a smoker, and I imagine there are plenty of people out there in a similarly tough situation.

'Poor people must be poor because they cannot manage their finances' is just too simple an argument. Let's not even get into how offensive it is for many of those who are struggling.


JamesM11 posted a reply   

This article gets funnier and funnier as it goes on. "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." Where does one start with how stupid this is. Causation might be a good start though. I wasn't aware that CNET had moved it's target demographic to people with IQ's under 70.


mcalau posted a comment   

One wonders how much of the low-income is spent on discretionary items such as cigarettes or alcohol.

A 3 pack a week smoking habit would easily cover the cost of a decent monthly internet plan.

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