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Unfinished business on the digital divide - Jordan Carter

Peter Griffin, Editor. 31 May 2022, 5:37 pm

He led InternetNZ for the best part of a decade, but Jordan Carter admits he feels frustrated at a lack of progress on bridging the digital divide.

Carter is "thinking up the next adventure" according to his LinkedIn profile and is currently travelling in the US. But he sat down with Colin Peacock, host of RNZ Mediawatch before he departed for a wide-ranging interview to reflect on nearly 20 years spent working with internet NZ, nearly ten of them as chief executive of the group that advocates for internet-related issues.

Canvassing topics ranging from the Christchurch Call, which he had a hand in developing with the Government following the mosque attacks in 2019 to disinformation campaigns during the Ukraine war, Carter reserved his strongest comments for digital equity.

"Successive governments have done a great job on the connectivity side of things, getting the networks rolled out," Carter acknowledged. 

"But this little slice of digital inclusion stuff, there's just been manifest resistance to this tiny investments that would be needed to sort it out. There are lots of ways to crack this nut as a relatively low-key way to bridge that gap. It's a piece of unfinished business that I'm frustrated to be leaving behind." he told Peacock.

Asked to clarify what sort of investments could be made to assist those who don't have reliable and affordable access to broadband and digital services, he pointed to subsidised broadband as a potential way to get people online.

"Who's out there saying we are going to fund citizen access for media, or education or healthcare or emergency response or when there's a pandemic and you want to see what the government is saying about it?" he asked.

"There's massive public interest almost for making sure everyone can get broadband for free. But that isn't a discussion that is happening in our society." 

Access affordability an issue

As Carter points out, our ultrafast broadband network development has been a great success. Earlier this month Haast on the West Coast became the latest rural town to receive UFB fibre coverage, perfect for start-up entrepreneurs looking to run a digital business from a beautiful and affordable location. 

The Government says it is on track to hit its goal of 87% of all New Zealanders having access to UFB by the end of 2022. But the monthly broadband subscription fee is beyond the reach of many Kiwis and there is next to nothing in the way of subsidies for home broadband connections. 

Spark's Skinny Jump service, available through a community partner network organised by the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa (DIAA), offers a wireless broadband connection at a cost of $5 for 30GB (gigabytes) with a free modem included and no long-term contracts required. Other countries are investing more to bridge the digital divide that continues to prevent people from accessing broadband.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration said 20 US internet providers had joined a scheme that could allow up to 48 million to access subsidised broadband, as part of the US$14.2 billion affordable Connectivity Program announced last year.

Jordan-Carter.webp

Former InternetNZ CEO Jordan Carter

It provides a US$30 a month subsidy for lower-income households and $75 for those in tribal areas.

The Biden administration announced on Monday that 20 internet companies have agreed to provide discounted service to people with low incomes, a program that could effectively make tens of millions of households eligible for free service through an already existing federal subsidy.

If those who qualify sign up with one of the 20 ISPs in the scheme, they would effectively get a 100 megabits per second connection fully paid.

Carter says the government needs to look beyond its infrastructure push to consider the affordability of broadband, which remains a barrier to people in low socio-economic groups getting access to high-speed internet services for education, entertainment and communication.

"There's a massive public interest in making sure that almost everyone can get broadband, but there isn't a discussion that's happening in our society," he told Mediawatch.

"Fixing things up for the people who don't (have access) is not a giant problem that would take billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to sort out."

You can listen back to the entire Mediawatch interview with Jordan Carter here.


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