Getting more New Zealanders online is the government’s goal with its Digital Inclusion Blueprint. The plan is to bridge the digital divide and make sure people don’t miss out as more and more vital services move on to the internet.
Government Digital Services Minister Megan Woods launched the blueprint on Friday.
She says: “Some people can’t easily apply for jobs as many recruitment processes start online. Kids may be prevented from doing their homework.
“Others could feel isolated from more digitally savvy friends and family who communicate using social media. We want to ensure no one is left out or left behind as more and more of our lives move online.”
Life hard without a connection
She is right. It is already hard to do simple everyday things without an internet connection. It will get harder.
Even something as simple as arranging for a council rubbish pick-up or buying insurance is difficult without an internet connection.
We tend to underestimate the number of New Zealanders without internet access. In part that’s because of the way government collects official information. Much of it is now done through the web.
When it isn’t, officials often collect data by phone. The problem here is that people without home internet connections are often the same people who don’t have mobile phones.
More offline than you might think
At the 20/20 Trust, Bill Dashfield says at least 11 percent of the population do not use the internet. This group is likely to include older, poorer, rural and non-Pākehā New Zealanders. That makes for a digital divide.
Woods says: “Access to online service is a key priority is one of my priorities and an area Government has already invested in. For example, the Prime Minister recently announced $21 million funding for Regional Digital Hubs (RDHs) in towns to connect local people and businesses to digital services.
This is a good start. It helps that the government supported ultra-fast broadband programme now extends further into rural New Zealand. Eventually about 85 percent of the country will get fibre. Almost everyone else will have better broadband, either in the shape of fixed wireless or improved copper connections.
InternetNZ Jordan Carter zoomed in on one aspect of the divide in a press release.
Call for action on digital divide
He says; “We welcome, in particular, the development of Te Whata Kōrero. It’s a call to action for tāngata whenua to work alongside the government to provide leadership on digital inclusion”.
Moreover, he nails the biggest problem: funding.
Previous governments managed to find close to $2 billion to build UFB and the other broadband improvement projects. Now it has to earmark money to make sure everyone can reap the benefits of fibre and other fast broadband technologies.
The good news is it won’t cost anything like $2 billion. Even five percent of that will pay for a lot of small local initiatives. Small projects are the best way to get people across the digital divide. It will be a lot cheaper than maintaining offline government services for jobs that are better done online.
Let’s hope there are funds in the budget to pay for this.