The five point plan for digital inclusion: COVID-19 and beyond
Kim Connolly-Stone •
On 13 May we released The five point plan for digital inclusion: COVID-19 and beyond. The aim of the plan is to present a shared understanding of digital inclusion priorities, now, as New Zealand is battling with the implications of COVID-19, and for the longer term wellbeing and economic prosperity of New Zealanders.
Twenty organisations signed onto this plan in a matter of days, and seventeen more have joined us in the fortnight since. While the plan focuses on areas for government investment, all the signatories have pledged their support to make it happen. We need a coordinated effort.
Successive governments have done a good job of investing in Internet infrastructure. We have also seen some really great initiatives from government, telcos, and NGOs to get connectivity and devices to people during the lockdown. However, affordable connectivity and accessible technology are still not available to many New Zealanders. We also need longer-term solutions for short term fixes.
And it's not just about connectivity and devices—its what you can do with these things. This is why having digital skills, accessible formats, and the motivation, trust, and confidence to get online are such an important part of the digital inclusion picture.
The irony is that the groups of New Zealanders who might have the most to gain from the Internet are often the ones who face barriers. This includes families on low incomes, seniors, Māori, Pasifika, those with disabilities, and our remote communities.
The good news is that the Government’s Digital Inclusion Blueprint recognises the importance of digital inclusion, the issues that need to be addressed, and those who are most at risk of missing out. What the five point plan does is provide a recipe for the investment necessary to get cracking. Much of this investment needs to go to the community organisations who know their people best. Also to those already active in the digital inclusion area, to allow them to scale up and help more people.
As the title suggests, the five point plan calls for action on five fronts:
- Affordable connectivity: having put the fibre in the ground, we think there is now a role for government in ensuring everyone can afford a good quality Internet connection. Our communities need access to high speed low cost uncapped services. Subsidies, payment solutions, and zero rated websites for accessing government resources and services should all be on the table. Affordable and quality connectivity should also be part of the standard offering with public housing.
- Getting devices to people who can’t afford them: it’s easy to think everyone has a device or can afford one appropriate to their needs. They don’t. Many people use hardware and connectivity provided by organisations such as libraries, but in times of regional or national disaster, these places close, limiting access for those that need it most. And it’s not just about access to any device, devices and software need to be accessible by the user. Almost a quarter of New Zealand’s population has a disability or some form of access need.
- Wrap around support for the newly connected: A device and a connection is just the beginning. There are organisations in our communities working hard to help people learn the digital skills they need, from how to turn on the device and get online, to setting up and using email, and navigating government online services. These organisations need more funding to do their thing and reach more people.
- Digital skills for displaced workers and our small businesses: investment in digital skills has been a missing piece of the puzzle for some time now. But COVID-19 has brought the importance of digital skills into stark relief. For those needing to find new employment, foundational digital skills can help them prepare a CV and search for jobs online, and higher-level digital skills can open up new career options. For small businesses, building and maintaining an online presence is going to be important as the economy looks to recover from the pandemic. Digital skills for businesses should include how to improve the accessibility of websites and mobile apps. This would not only benefit the 24+ percent of New Zealanders that have access needs but also ensure businesses reach all potential customers and improve customer experience, thereby increasing revenue.
- Longer term Internet resilience: the COVID-19 lockdown has reinforced the importance of reliable connectivity. We do have gaps in our coverage and reliability. Further government investment in telecommunications infrastructure, as part of the “shovel ready” infrastructure work, can sort this out.
None of what we have suggested here is rocket science. But it can make a world of difference when we are all clear about what needs to be done and who can help. We are looking forward to seeing the Government’s digital inclusion action plan, and very much hope it lines up with what we have here.
Update Jan 2022: The five point plan for digital inclusion is no longer open for signatures. If you have any questions about the plan please email the policy team. If you're interested in working to achieve digital equity in Aotearoa, join InternetNZ and others at DECA — Digital Equity Coalition Aotearoa.
Kua rāranga tahi tātou he whāriki ipurangi mō āpōpō
Together we weave the mat, in terms of the Internet, for future generations.