Social and Digital Inclusion

November 29, 2015

I’m a bit late on this one, but last week (21-29 November 2015) was “Social Inclusion Week” here in Australia.

To mark the week, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) published a short piece on 23 November 2015 entitled “Why digital inclusion matters”.  Key points from that article:

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that “in 2012–13, 98 per cent of households with a household income of $120,000 or more had internet access, compared to only 57 per cent of households with a household income of less than $40,000, suggesting an ‘affordability divide’ when it comes to broadband.”
  • “Lack of digital literacy is an increasingly significant issue as more government services move online as part of the Federal Government’s Digital First Strategy which will require all services and public interactions to be available online by 2017.”  ACCAN’s concern is that “a lack of digital literacy will affect some consumers’ ability to access essential Government services”, particularly because of our continuing need to update our “digital capability to stay in touch and [be] included due to updates to technology and changing applications”.

Click here to see my recent articles on digital inclusion, including my paper on that topic that I presented to the Communications Policy and Research Forum in Sydney in November 2011.

Millions of Americans still go without internet – the bookless library arrives to assist

October 12, 2013

In this world of what we in the middle upper middle and professional classes think of universally connected, it’s a telling reminder that in Bexar County Texas (San Antonio ), one third of residents do not have internet access at home,

Yes you read that one correctly. One third.

So reports Time magazine in its October 14th issue here in Australia (September 13th online), in an article about a new totally digitalibrary called BiblioTech.

As I have written about in my digital inclusion posts, good internet access is the new dividing line in our modern world.  We are at a stage in our evolution when teenagers and young people will pay their phone bills rather than eating; that’s how important digital connectivity is.

New post on digital participation

January 17, 2012

My latest “digital participation” blog post is now up on Open Forum, which is “an independent, non-profit, collaborative think-tank built around an interactive moderated discussion website that provides a platform for focused dialogue on Australian public policy and social issues”.  The post summarises a number of my ideas and writings over the past couple of months.



Rural Telecommunications Review submission

December 19, 2011

Amongst the many telecommunications reviews currently underway in Australia (think the Media Convergence review and others) sits one of profound importance for rural and remote Australians:  the Rural Telecommunications Review, which is being headed by Rosemary Sinclair. This review is due to report by 5 March 2012 (soon!) and is charged with the following:

In its review of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia, the committee will have particular regard for initiatives that enable regional communities to participate in, and realise the opportunities of, the digital economy.

I have put a submission to this review, which is in part based on my digital inclusion paper, but extends the discussion further with particular regard to rural and remote Australia.  My submission is available here, and a list of all submissions to the Review can be seen here.

The Kevin Costner Effect: They keep on coming

December 18, 2011

According to The New York Times (“New Dreams for Field”, 30 October 2011, Sports p. 1), the fans are still coming to the baseball field that Kevin Costner’s character built in the 1989 film Field of Dreams (news flash: Field of Dreams  is screening on free-to-air Australian TV on digital channel One -“1”- on Thursday 22nd December at 8.30pm). Writer Ken Belson reports that the farm where the field was built (Dyersville, Iowa), whose owners have maintained the baseball field, has now been sold to new owners who are planning on maintaining it. In the first year after the film was released, about 7,000 people showed up to see the field; the following year that number doubled and “some brought their fathers’ old gloves and left them in the cornfield.  Others exchanged wedding vows or scattered ashes of deceased relatives.”

The powerful reaction to this place reflects three enduring, important and enduring themes in American life:

– the longing for a “historical past” which was simpler and filled with traditional values;

– the significance of farms and rural America in the consciousness of Americans as a place where the “real” America lies, irrespective of the fact that only a tiny percentage of Americans actually live on farms:  according to the US Dept of Agriculture, the figure is less than two percent; and according to the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, “the desertion of the small family farm constitutes the largest population movement in American history” and “the family farm is one of the last homes of old school American ethnicity and beliefs”; and

– the paramount and indeed spiritual importance of place, physical space – even in this digital, hyper-connected and networked world.

The lasting impact of this film, with its tag line “If you build it, they will come” also has helped to establish (or at least reinforce) what I call a significant fallacy in construction:  that somehow if we just build a place/space/building you name it, people will show.  Yes, they will come, but only rarely.  To Kevin Costner’s character’s field – and indeed even to its real-life location some twenty-two years later.

But not necessarily to everything.  In my recent (November 2011) presentation to the Communications Policy and Research Forum in Sydney (click here for details of this paper, including a link to the full downloadable paper), I call this belief of building and the coming “The Kevin Costner Effect”.  In the paper, I caution that this is not necessarily the case when it comes to the development of broadband networks and infrastructure like Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).  The reason for this caution is that some twenty percent of the population in countries like Australia, the USA and the UK will not automatically “arrive” on broadband – emphasising the necessity to promote and systematically plan for digital inclusion.

The digital divide still grows

December 13, 2011

A recent (3 December 2011) article in The New York Times by Susan P. Crawford has again emphasised the growing digital divide – and the importance of bridging it to promote full digital inclusion.  In the article, Crawford (who is professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation policy), writes that:

Telecommunications, which in theory should bind us together, has often divided us in practice. Until the late 20th century, the divide split those with phone access and those without it. Then it was the Web: in 1995 the Commerce Department published its first look at the “digital divide,” finding stark racial, economic and geographic gaps between those who could get online and those who could not.

Yes, first it was simple access to the telephone, then to a computer, but now it is something much more complex – access to full broadband.  She writes of the “two separate marketplaces” for the internet:

High-speed wired and second-class wireless. High-speed access is a superhighway for those who can afford it, while racial minorities and poorer and rural Americans must make do with a bike path.

Remember that image – “the bike path” – in contrast to the superhighway the economic elite are travelling on.  She continues:

Just over 200 million Americans have high-speed, wired Internet access at home, and almost two-thirds of them get it through their local cable company. The connections are truly high-speed: based on a technological standard called Docsis 2.0 or 3.0, they can reach up to 105 megabits per second, fast enough to download a music album in three seconds.

It’s true.  In my recent two month stay in New York City, we easily had that 100 mbs – all provided through the local cable TV company, a peculiarity of American television distribution that we have not seen replicated in Australia for a host of technical, economic and geographic reasons.

Another article (7 December 2011) highlights the desperate situation for the growing number of poor Americans:  Christina Gagnier writes in The Huffington Post about a new digital literacy program in California called “Jobscout”, which hopes to create a model that can be expanded nationally.

As I write in my paper on digital inclusion in Australia, digital literacy is only one of many barriers to full digital participation, but it certainly is an important one.

And that’s what we need:  models for digital inclusion that are “scalable” (to use an over-used word) and applicable to a number of places.  Let’s hope that the new “digital hubs” program of the Australian Government Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy can start to do this, but much more needs to be done – and quickly.

Digital inclusion paper on Australian Policy Online

December 8, 2011

My paper on digital inclusion – presented to the Communications Policy and Research conference on 7 November 2011 – has been posted online on the prestigious “Australian Policy Online” (APO) website, which is managed by Australian National University and Swinburne University of Technology.  Click here to go to the APO website page.

My paper has also been highlighted on the website of the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum, which is “dedicated to economic growth in the broadband economy in communities large and small”.  Forum co-founder Robert Bell recently (October 2011) visited Australia and spoke at the Economic Development Conference in Adelaide.  Click here for Bell’s reflections and perspective on the Australian NBN.

Digital inclusion resources – Dr Tim Williams on video

December 1, 2011

Australia has a limited collection of resources on digital inclusion.  The two best locations are the Melbourne-based community organisation Infoxchange – their Digital Inclusion website (especially see their “Reports” page – and my upcoming separate post which discusses the work of this organisation and its founder Andrew Mahar), and the growing collection of materials prepared by Dr Tim Williams.  Williams is a Welsh-born British consultant who has lived in Australia since late 2010, and who has undertaken work for the company Huawei as well as a number of other organisations.  The best Tim Williams resources are:

– his original report for Huawei, entitled Connecting Communities:  The Impact on Broadband on Communities in the UK and Its Implications for Australia

slides of his presentation to the International Association for Public Participation conference in Sydney in October 2011, presentation entitled “Public Participation in the Digital Era” (note PDF 6mg file)

– his summary of the August 17, 2011 digital inclusion conference, held in Canberra – entitled A Fair Go for All in the Digital Era:  Towards a Digital Inclusion Roadmap (note:  PDF document).

– the Huawei Australia YouTube channel has a number of videos of Williams, including some interviews.  The most interesting of these is his complete half-hour speech to the National Press Club in Canberra in February 2011 when launching the “Connecting Communities” report; you can watch this by clicking below:

Guest post on BuddeComm

November 29, 2011

Today my “guest post” about digital inclusion appeared on BuddeComm, the website of the company founded by Paul Budde, a major telecommunications research company based here in Australia.  This post discusses my digital inclusion ideas, which are also detailed in my posts of November 10th and November 14th.

Australian broadband participation – rural lags badly

November 14, 2011

A few days ago, I posted a copy of my presentation (“Digital Inclusion in the Broadband World: Challenges for Australia”) at last week’s Communications Policy and Research Forum (CPRF), which took place in Sydney on November 7th and 8th.

One of the presentations at the Forum – entitled “Regional Australians Engaging in the Digital Economy” – was given by Joseph DiGregorio, the Manager of the Communications Analysis Section at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

I mentioned in my conference paper, there appears to be some disagreement regarding what percentage of Australians are “broadband-connected”.  Clearly these figures do matter, because if the figures are low, the Government will feel the need to invest more funds in promoting and facilitating “digital participation”.  But if the figures are relatively high, the pressure (and the political imperative) eases.  So below is a summary taken from slide 17 of DiGregorio’s presentation, with figures supplied by Roy Morgan Research and effective June 2011 – just about the best figures you will find anywhere.  Click here to view a copy of his slides.

The most “broadband-connected” homes in Australia (note that this is “homes” only, and not all “premises”, which also includes businesses, etc):

–          The ACT comes in the winner at 75% – this makes a lot of sense, considering the relatively higher wealth and education of ACT residents, both factors being associated with high broadband-connectivity.  The ACT also leads with the most internet-access homes at 85%.

–          Next comes Brisbane at 74% broadband (admittedly, a one percentage point difference may not actually be statistically significant), with 84% internet-connected.

–          Next is Perth at 73% broadband connected (82% internet).

–          Then Melbourne broadband homes at 72%, Darwin/Alice Springs (metro NT) at 71% and Sydney at 69%.  I would hazard a guess that Sydney’s 69% IS statistically significant, compared to the ACT’s 75% connections.

What is even more telling – and troubling but certainly not surprising – are those at the bottom of the Australian broadband connection percentages:

–          Tasmania outside of Hobart at 55% and Hobart at 61% (and who is complaining about how much attention Tasmania actually gets on telecommunications matters?; they appear to need it, big time).

–          Rural South Australia sits at 62%.

–          Rural Victoria and rural New South Wales sit at 65%.

Yes, these metro/rural figures are significant, and consistently so.  In fact, in every state the household broadband connectivity of non-capital city regions are about ten percentage points lower below than the major metropolitan areas.  The one exception is Tasmania, primarily because the Hobart connection numbers are so low to begin with.  Note that no figures are available for non-metro Northern Territory because of small numbers; if data were available, presumably these would be extremely low because of the large number of remote communities where connectivity is not high.