Argue a point- The NBN will close the digital divide in Australia. (or not)

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      Stephanie Venturato

      The NBN. Just mentioning it invokes ire and disgruntlement in many Australians. But finally after talking about in for so long we’re on our way to lighting fast internet (or not, depending on your definition of fast). The big question is who will it benefit? What (if anything) will change?


      Well according to Tony Abbott and the NBN.Co, the NBN will do far more then just letting me download Orange is the new black quicker (though I wouldn’ t mind that). No, the NBN is set to “Connect Australia, Close the digital divide”. Firstly, it’s a very lofty goal for network that’s NOT EVEN GOING TO BE ALL THAT FAST!!!! But more importantly I find that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexity of the digital divides.


      The digital divide is the diminished access to technological services, such as internet access, however in recent years the research surrounding the digital divide has refocused to consider not only physical access but also intellectual access . Information and digital literacy are now viewed as essential skills for participating in the online environment, which is not only becoming more common but necessary to daily life. The elderly, disabled and those from low socio-economic background remain amongst the majority of those digitally excluded, as well as those from rural and aboriginal communities. It is certainly true that we are closer than ever to closing the digital divide, however those who remain unconnected are the most vulnerable and least likely to catch up.


      There is also the concern that the digital divide is too binary a term. It denotes the have and have nots rather than considering that the range of digital experiences are broad and varied. For example in many remote aboriginal communities, mobile technology reign’s over in home broadband set-ups, will the NBN prioritising mobile services in these area’s with little to no infrastructure? The jury’s still out on this one but if it happens, it won’t be anytime soon.


      Another common misconception is that if we are online we all having the same experiences. However those who are digitally excluded, have trouble accessing online services and as society is moving faster towards online services, digital inclusion programs are struggling to keep up. It is true that faster internet will improve many services and aid users experiences online, especially in online learning environments for schools, a key step in closing socio-economic gaps early. However for those who struggle with traditional literacy, and other disadvantaged groups, the basic online services remain difficult to navigate. This can only be mediated with improved information literacy and more human centred design to these services.


      To sum up the NBN will do little, if anything to close the digital divide. It will bring us marginally faster internet and close the physical access gap its true, however the digital divide is not just a physical access issue. Traditionally marginalised groups are also marginalised from digital society and until the government makes a commitment to digital and information literacy the digital divide will not only remain, but it will grow. If we consider the internet an inalienable human right than we are simply not doing enough to aide those who are digitally excluded.

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