Justice, Opportunity and Shared Wealth for all South Australians

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Not everyone can afford to be online

Digital engagement can come at a hefty price for anyone who doesn’t have access to cheap and reliable data streaming or digital literacy.
The challenges get greater as more government services and businesses go online.
In the past month, how many of us registered our car, renewed our licence, registered with My Aged Care, got information fromCentrelink or the NDIS, or booked a show or holiday online?
Similarly, education has gone online and children also use it for sport and to maintain their friendships.
The availability of this technology has seen government and many businesses look to achieve savings by making this their preferred pathway for interaction with customers and citizens.
Most of us don’t just want to be online, we need to be.
In Australia, the NBN is often seen as a baseline technology for the digital age.
However, while others may argue over NBN speeds, for those on low incomes there are financial challenges just maintaining online connection.
The average South Australian household spends 2.5 per cent of its disposable income on telecommunications charges (not counting equipment costs).
If a single person relying on Newstart spent 2.5 per cent of their income on telecommunications that would be about $30 a month.
The basic NBN wholesale package is about $45 a month, which means that NBN’s wholesale charge to retailers is already 50 per cent more expensive than that extrapolated average spend, and the retail price is much more again.
Even for someone on a minimum wage, the 2.5 per cent spend would be about $78 a month, which may get a reasonable mobile phone plan, or home NBN – but not both. The fact is, people on the lowest incomes spend a much higher portion of their income on telecommunications – and get less value for money.
We need more public infrastructure to support free internet access and better market plans for those on low incomes, including low-cost NBN options. But clearly, we also need to look at our income-support system because households reliant on Newstart don’t spend 2.5 per
cent of their income paying for telecommunications – they spend 7.5 per cent or more.
If Newstart was increased by $75 a week then that same expenditure would drop to 6 per cent of weekly income.
Let’s hope that 2019 sees inadequate base-income support payments such as Newstart increased. And given that SA rates as the worst-performing state for telecommunications access, affordability and ability to use digital communications, let’s also hope we see the development of a comprehensive state digital-inclusion plan to enable all of us to enjoy new technology and to prosper in a digital world.

Published Date: 
Sunday, 27 January 2019