Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has sought to position the National Broadband Network (NBN) as a means to connect those who are digitally isolated as a result of age, illness or disability.
Addressing attendees at the National Digital Inclusion Summit, Conroy said the NBN would enable socially isolated Australians to chat, browse and shop, access services and information and connect with their community outside the walls of their home.
“For many isolated Australians the walls or their home define the world, setting the boundaries of their social contact. The internet has the power to dissolve those walls,” Conroy said.
“The online world is the gateway to a vast range of opportunity and engagement,” he said. “While the internet presents these opportunities, we must also be mindful that if we leave people behind, the isolation will be even greater.”
According to Conroy, the status of the digital economy is fundamental to Australia’s economic future with individuals who are excluded from the digital economy at risk not only of social exclusion but economic disadvantage.
“We want all Australians no matter their age, location or personal circumstance to share in the benefits of the digital economy.”
Over 26 per cent of retirees, low income earners people with a disability and Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islanders did not use the internet throughout 2008-09, Conroy said.
“Clearly it is important that we get these groups engaged online and bring them with us on our digital journey,” he said. “It is not enough to just deliver access to the internet at home, it is also about ensuring access to high quality broadband enabled services and the skills and resources to maximise them.”
Conroy also said the state of the not-for-profit sector was key to supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable communities online, particularly in regional and remote areas. However, he noted these organisations were struggling to keep up with technology as community workers were spending an increased amount of time helping clients access, download, research and collate information online, so much so it has become a core part of their work.
“The digital economy has the power to overcome exclusion by connecting the isolated and marginalised, the challenge for all of us is to ensure that our digital future becomes one of benefit and advantage for all and that no Australian is left behind or left out.”
Also speaking at the event, Shadow communications ministers, Malcolm Turnbull, said the Opposition will look to create a national government-funded ‘electronic pigeon hole’ for all Australians in an effort to cut the costs of ‘snail mail’ communication if returned to power at the next election.
The pigeon hole would effectively act as a life-long single source of storage for communications between each citizen and government.
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