Universal access to the internet is being recognised as a key issue for ensuring all New Zealanders benefit from the Ultra Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband rollouts.
In its report Solving Digital Divides Together, InternetNZ claims that “infrastructure access is no longer the primary access issue for New Zealanders. 93% of Kiwis tell us they have the Internet. The infrastructure, be it fibre, copper, cable or fixed wireless, is there. By 2025, 99% of New Zealanders will have access to broadband speeds of at least 50Mbps.”
“We need to turn our minds to the non-infrastructure digital divides, ensuring people can afford Internet access, and have the skills, motivation and trust in the Internet to make the most of it.”
A restoration of funding for Computers in Homes, a programme run by the 20/20 Trust, is part of the Coalition Agreement signed by Labour and NZ First when they formed the Government in October. However, there was no funding announced in the Government’s Budget last week.
“We are concerned about the impact on the digitally excluded – the 100,000 school-aged children without internet access at home” said Laurence Millar of 20/20 Trust. “These families will be cut further adrift each year that the world moves on and they are not digitally connected.”
Government funding for the programme ended in June 2017, and the Trust has had to maintain national capability for delivery of digital inclusion programmes by drawing on its reserves built up over the last seven years, Millar says.
Meanwhile in a TechWeek speech earlier this week Derek Handley, whose roles include Adjunct Executive Professor at AUT, board member at SkyTV, and Chief Innovation Officer at a New York-based start-up studio Human Ventures, said New Zealand will fail to become a leading digital nation if it doesn’t address the number of children without internet access in their homes.
During a visit to the Otara Library in Manukau he discovered that the most popular attendance time was directly after school, so that the students could use the library’s computers and internet.
“Many of them (students) use cheap Android phones without data plans, to connect to WiFi – to search, type up essays and assignments, on their tiny screens,” he says. “Many of the homes they go back to might have only a handful of books. In their homes, they are barely connected to the present – let alone the future.”
Handley contrasted that experience with his own five-year-old son, whom he says is “digitally roaming every day creatively and in his own way”.
“If we believe, as I do and I have witnessed, that the internet and a tablet accelerates the learning and discovery of a young child, orders of magnitude beyond what a simple book can – we have on one hand a child growing
The Government also pledged to create a National Chief Technology Officer and is currently recruiting again for the role, following a failed attempt earlier this year. While Handley positively referenced the CTO role in his speech, he later told Computerworld that he has not put his hand up, noting that he is still living in New York.