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Digital divide more than a technical challenge: NGOs, telcos and government respond

August 20, 2020

Digital divide more than a technical challenge: NGOs, telcos and government respond

NZers check latest updates through MoH's website "Unite against COVID19". Photo: Lucy Xia

Community organisations working to improve digital literacy skills say that bridging the gap for those who lack access is more than just a technical challenge.

The Department of Internal Affairs estimates that one in five New Zealanders is struggling to engage with the digital world.

Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa (DIAA) Operations Director Laurence Zwimpfer says providing internet access and training to marginalised groups such as the elderly, low-income families and house-bound people is critical, especially during a pandemic.

Mr Zwimpfer says the team has been delivering modems to households as an essential service since the March lockdown as part of a subsidized internet program.

However, he says that digital empowerment is more than just an internet connection.

“You’ve made it possible for people to connect, now you’ve got to make it affordable, make sure they've got the skills and confidence to use it,” Mr Zwimpfer says.

These sentiments are echoed by Andrew Cushen, Director of Engagement of InternetNZ, a non-profit group active in the digital equity space.

Mr Cushen says there is a need to look beyond infrastructure to address digital inclusion challenges.

“There are underlying causes of digital exclusion that, while being harder to solve, are within our means to solve as well…and that includes affordability.”

In May, InternetNZ released the Five Point Plan for Digital Inclusion, advocating for affordable connection and wrap around services, particularly for marginalised groups.

Many of the 40 organisations supporting the campaign are already working alongside communities most affected by digital exclusion, including Age Concern NZ, 20/20 Trust and Deaf Action NZ.

Major internet providers also have responded to the urgency for digital equity, with initiatives ranging from funding research to discounted connection.

The Internal Affairs department will be releasing the Digital Inclusion 2020-2021 Action Plan later this month, says Digital Inclusion Lead Kirk Mariner.

The plan is a step forward from the Digital Inclusion Blueprint published last year, and will include a $10 million commitment to digital upskilling, he says.

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