New Zealand has some encouraging overall figures on home internet use, but such high-level statistics conceal some "very disconnected" groups in the population, says Lawrence Zwimpfer of the 2020 Communications Trust.
Statistics NZ figures show that 71.6% of New Zealanders, or 1.5 million households, have an internet connected computer. "This means that more than 400,000 households don't," Zwimpfer says. "We asked Stats to match this with families that have school-age children. The alarming result was that more than 100,000 of these families do not have access to a computer or the internet in their homes."
Even more alarming, he adds, is the disparity in levels of connectivity from district to district. "At one end, only 13% of families with school-age children don't have an internet connection at home. At the other end of the scale, 57% don't have a connection."
To try to reduce this inequity, the Trust has launched its "100,000 Challenge" as a spur to the business community to supply funding to get computers and the internet into more homes.
The Trust has run the Computers in Homes programme for more than eight years.
The Trust has predominantly aimed at improving the ability of parents to help their children with school assignments and hence to improve communication within the family. At the same time, it has meant a boost to the parents' computer skills and this has left some of them wanting more training.
In tandem with the news of the 100,000 Challenge, Microsoft announced funding for families that already have computers through the scheme. It is gifting $800,000 and a further $400,000 of free software under what it calls the "Stepping Up" scheme, to allow the parents to extend their computer literacy to where it will assist their employment options.
Families in Porirua, Gisborne and Wanganui will be the first to benefit. The target for the three-year period of the scheme is to help 5000 families, says Microsoft chief Kevin Ackhurst.
Computers in Homes started with public funding. The new scheme turns that around, says Earl Mardle of the Trust; the funding is now from private sources and the benefit is for the public.
The joint launch of the 100,000 Challenge and Stepping Up was held at Parliament and gave people from the ICT and ICT-using community the chance to meet Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce.
Acknowledging the event was his first public launch of an ICT initiative as ICT minister, Joyce linked the schemes with the government's planned national broadband rollout. "There is no use in having an ultra-fast broadband network if individuals are not able to use it to improve their lives," he told the gathering.