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Another lockdown and still no digital equity plan

Kim Connolly-Stone, Contributor. 13 September 2021, 10:18 am

When Covid-19 first became part of our reality last year some of us couldn't help thinking it would, at last, make the definitive case for some decent government investment in digital inclusion.

Who couldn't see the essential role for the Internet in New Zealand's resilience and social and economic well being when we were relying on it to do pretty much everything?

We came up with a plan

We made the most of our first lockdown, getting together on Zoom from bedrooms and garages around the motu to come up with The five-point plan for digital inclusion: COVID-19 and beyond. The plan talked about what the government needed to do and how the rest of us could help. It was pretty simple:

Screenshot 2021-09-13 at 10.17.21 AM.png

- Provide affordable connectivity
- Get devices to folks who can't afford them
- Wrap support around the newly connected
- Provide digital skills for individuals and small businesses, and
- Continue with the broadband rollout.

But we were wrong, or at least overly optimistic. While there were a few bouquets in the 2020/2021 Covid Budget, with some digital skills training and support for small businesses and libraries, none of this funding was long term. And it was really disappointing to see no new money for digital inclusion in the most recent Budget.

While the Government's Digital Inclusion Action Plan for 2020-2022 provided a handy summary of what was on the go, we didn't think it had done enough for a mallowpuff. But an honourable mention goes to the Ministry of Education for its efforts to get devices and Internet connections to families during and after lockdowns.

Digital Strategy Aotearoa is coming

The Minister for the Digital Economy has announced plans for a Digital Strategy for Aotearoa (there has been a strategy gap for a couple of years now). The plan will have three pou: growth, inclusion and trust. Having a plan and being public about things being a priority makes it a lot more likely investment will flow. Keep an eye out for the consultation and share your reckons.

But in the meantime, lots of us are still in lockdown and many New Zealanders are without the basics. Eleven percent don't have access to the internet, and it's a lot higher for some groups. For example, a Motu study from 2019 found that around 35% of folks in social housing don't have access to the Internet at home or at work. 

What can we do right now?

Members of the digital equity community got together this week to talk about urgent digital inclusion needs with the latest lockdown (check out the collaborative doc from the hui here: DECA Lockdown Emergency Response meeting).

One of the biggest issues this time around seems to be a device shortage. There are a number of amazing people and NGOs trying to fill the gaps. The Ministry of Education is also extending its rollout. If you or the organisation you work with would like to help, here are some ideas:

IT Young Professional of the year, Eteroa Lafaele, is collecting laptops for families who don't have them during lockdown. Take a look at her video here.
Donate to Recycle a Device (RAD) or Digital Wings, they have a lot more demand than supply at the moment.

Get in touch with A digital equity coalition for Aotearoa at [email protected]. To get an idea of how you can help check out the table at the end of this doc: DECA Lockdown Emergency Response meeting

In the longer term we are going to need more holistic action, community support and government investment, but let's do what we can to help right now.

Kim Connolly-Stone is Policy Director at InternetNZ


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