MEDIA RELEASE: NTCOSS Cost of Living Report No. 30

Deep Digital Divide in the NT

In its 30th Cost of Living Report released today, the Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS) highlights that as more and more services move online, many Territorians are struggling to afford their telecommunications.

Report author, Mr Jonathan Pilbrow, said despite improvements in digital services and better value mobile and internet plans, the need to be online more often sees low income households and remote Territorians still facing financial hardship to keep up.

“Many lower income Territorians rely solely on mobile phones for their internet access which are generally associated with less value for money, leading to people on the lowest incomes in the country paying the highest rates for telecommunications. This leads to higher rates of digital exclusion and financial pressure.

“Australia’s poorest households (those in the bottom 10%) are paying 8.3% of their disposable income on telecommunications, more than double the national household average of 3.3%.”

Mr Pilbrow said the issues of affordability are compounded by access problems in remote areas.

“As well as being more expensive, pre-paid phones often run out of data, leaving Territorians suddenly offline.

“In addition, many mobile towers in remote Aboriginal communities are only 3G which offer poor speeds and are prone to congestion.

“Issues with power outages and the affordability of power can also mean remote community WiFi hotspots can be disconnected and even the ability of a household to keep a smart phone charged cannot be assumed.”

Despite 20,000 Territorians having gained access to mobile and broadband communications through recent developments in infrastructure, around 25,000 Territorians are still without internet or mobile access where they live (excluding satellite services).

“The national data shows that the Territory is facing the deepest digital divide in the country.  And the fact is the situation may be even worse, because the data itself for the NT is so poor.

“Bridging the NT’s digital divide requires more than just cheaper phones; it needs place-based solutions that combine multiple strategies and technologies.”

NTCOSS calls for reforms to improve access to affordable internet and mobile phone services as a matter of priority, especially for people in remote parts of the NT.

“This is vital for the many population groups within the NT who are missing out on full access to the benefits that telecommunications products and services can bring” stated Mr Pilbrow.

 

Key Report Recommendations to the Northern Territory Government include:

  • Improved data collection, including face-to-face samples from remote and very remote communities and Town Camps
  • In partnership with Aboriginal communities, develop and implement a targeted digital inclusion program with a focus on access, affordability and digital ability
  • An affordable, concessional, home broadband service for households on limited incomes
  • Free or unmetered access to Government websites and other essential activities in plans most likely to be used by low-income households

 

Key Report Recommendations to the Federal Government

  • Improved data collection, including face-to-face samples from remote and very remote communities and Town Camps
  • That the Federal Government introduce tailored funding approaches for telecommunications in remote areas
  • That the Federal Government increase the base rate of JobSeeker and related payments by $175 per week

 

Read the 30th NTCOSS Cost of Living Report

Read the Cost of Living Factsheet

 

FOR MEDIA INTERVIEWS: Contact Jonathan Pilbrow, Report Author, NTCOSS 0403 611 815