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Not all internet access was created equally

Viv Chandra, Guest Post. 12 March 2018, 7:00 am
Not all internet access was created equally

This past few weeks, hopefully, most of the citizens of Aotearoa took part in the Census. In the lead up to the big day, Statistics New Zealand promised that this one will be different. They are aiming to collect most of the information online. In fact Liz MacPherson, Aotearoa's Government Statistician, put the challenge out, we are aiming for over 68% completed online.

At first glance, 68% is probably not much of a stretch. The digital uptake of select public services range from low 20s (Applying for an IRD number) to almost 90% (filing an individual tax return).

However, the census is the official count of how many people and dwellings there are in New Zealand. Almost all of the public funding is dependent on whether you or your group has been counted in the census.

By putting it primarily online, and putting the onus of getting the paper form back on the individual, we are at risk of artificially inflating our digital access in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Internet NZ and the 20/20 Trust did some good work on this recently. We can see quite clearly on a map that there are still sections of Aotearoa that do not have physical access to infrastructure, let alone any level of digital skill. These are the voices most in need of the support that the census leads to and the ones most at risk of being missed or misrepresented in the new system.

OMGTech! works regularly with children in high deprivation areas. Their households will probably answer "Yes" to the question of whether they have internet access. However, that often means one mobile phone on prepay. We argue that this does not mean true internet access. Especially not when we look at what is required for education these days.

The truth will come out in the wash. When the statistics are released, when we have a chance to drill down in what came back, it will be interesting to compare with data that is already out there. Will we see an artificially increased rate of digital access? Or will we see a true picture of Aotearoa's digital divide?

Viv Chandra is a volunteer with OMGTech! and occasional/annual Techblog guest poster


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