‘Digital divide’: 2.5 million Australians isolated with no internet connection

A coalition of major community organisations has called for urgent efforts to help the 2.5 million Australians not connected to the internet as the country turns to online education, remote work and telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Australian Council of Social Service, Choice, Anglicare, Smith Family and almost 30 other groups have written to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher warning people without internet connections and technology face an "alarming escalation of the digital divide".

Telehealth and other internet-based services are in demand during the COVID-19 crisis.

Praising the economic support packages announced by the government so far, the groups said more was needed for the many low income and remote households "who will remain isolated and struggle in these circumstances due to barriers in accessing communications services and equipment".

The pre-existing problem is heightened during the pandemic, the groups warned, hindering access to government services, children trying to undertake online education and people needing access to telehealth services.

The coalition called for "targeted low-cost broadband" connections for eligible households, a relief package of basic telecommunications equipment and a telephone service for people with low digital literacy.

They also urged the government to work with telcos on ensuring customers' ongoing access to adequate data, preventing disconnections during the crisis, suspending late fees and debt collection, addressing outages in remote communities and helping Telstra make their wifi-enabled payphones free.

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"Together with your ongoing dialogue with the industry to monitor and increase network capacity at this critical time, these measures are urgently needed to provide a safety net that mitigates against enduring economic, health, educational and social impacts," they said.

"Australians are more dependent on connectivity than ever before and without immediate action we face an alarming escalation of the digital divide at a time when we can least afford it."

The most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that 2.5 million Australians are not online because of affordability issues, location or lack of digital literacy.

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