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Census highlights regional digital divide: 2020 Trust

Laurence Millar, Chair, 2020 Communications Trust. 05 December 2013, 2:35 pm
Census highlights regional digital divide: 2020 Trust

Census data released this week shows that a regional digital divide exists in New Zealand, says the 2020 Communications Trust.

The Trust is set up to enable internet access for low income families, and its Chair Laurence Millar says it has commissioned Statistics NZ to find out more about the communities that are missing out on basic internet connectivity. In the following opinion piece he looks at the census data.

The new Census data reveals a total of 421,152 households throughout New Zealand do not have access to the internet, although the percentage of households with access to the internet has increased from 58% to 73% since the 2006 Census.

The most digitally disconnected community in New Zealand is the Opotiki District, with only 50% of households having access to the internet, according to the Census 2013 data. In 2006, only 36% of Opotiki households had access to the internet, so the latest information shows a positive trend. 

But this contrasts with the Upper Harbour Local Board area of Auckland, which retains the top spot as the most digitally connected community; 87% of all households have access to the internet.

The census data throws a new light on recent reports that have suggested New Zealand is reaching a saturation point in terms of internet usage. It is hard to conclude that we are anywhere near saturation, when nearly one third of all households have no access.

At the 2020 Trust, we are particularly concerned about families with school-aged children; the Household ICT survey in 2012 revealed a total of 69,000 households with over 200,000 school-aged children without access to the internet. 

We know that surveys rely on samples and are often only conducted over the telephone seriously under-state the true extent of the digital divide. So the 2020 Trust has commissioned Statistics New Zealand to undertake further analysis of the Census data to get an accurate count of the number and regional distribution of households with school-aged children who do not have access to the internet.

It is critically important that every school-aged child has access to the internet in their homes.  Educators are increasingly pointing to the opportunity for 24/7 learning as a cornerstone of 21st Century learning, but this is only possible with ubiquitous and affordable internet access. 

With support from government and business partners, the 2020 Trust has provided training for over 10,000 families in low income communities and helped connect them to the internet. But the latest Census statistics suggest we still have a long way to go.

The 2020 Communications Trust was established in 1996 by the Wellington City Council to promote a more digitally connected and digitally literate community.  In the year 2000, the Trust expanded to cover digitally disadvantaged communities throughout New Zealand and currently has digital literacy programmes including Computers in Homes, Stepping Up and KiwiSkills operating in 20 communities from Kaitaia in the Far North to Southland.  


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