Shadow Minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy, Malcolm Turnbull, has claimed that online economies that offer the ability to communicate at great speed can also pose substantial challenges.
He made this claim at the National Digital Inclusion Summit 2011 session on digital technology being beyond politics – it’s about more than just cables in the dirt.
Turnbull claimed many have argued that information in the digital age is creating the most transparent and efficient markets by increasing our capacity to store and compute and elevating the ability to send information at great speeds.
“Just think of what you can save paying your bills online, online shopping and the ability to work collaboratively with people over very wide geographies. However, we have to be very careful not to look at information in the digital age solely through rose coloured glasses,” he said.
Turnbull added that people and groups that are at risk of being left behind should be catered to. According to him, the digital disadvantage that comes from lack of income is the most concerning. He said that the local income earners are eight times more likely to have no Internet connection at home than high income earners. People aged 65 years and over are two and a half times more likely not to use the Internet on a weekly basis as compared to the general population of 14 years and older.
Turnbull quoted a study conducted by a Swinburne University academic, which showed that 60 per cent of the remote Northern Territory aboriginal communities surveyed had never used the Internet and none of them has even heard of the Australian broadband guarantee.
As such, he suggested that though the bar for digital inclusion is increasing all the time, it has to be valued against costs to make it affordable to everyone.
“The government should set out to offer people the in effect electronic pigeon hole. Governments could save hundreds of millions if not, over time billions of dollars by saying to any Australian that wanted it – we will give you a free, lifetime address where you will receive communications from government,” Turnbull said.
He concluded by saying that the critical issue for the government is that it is spending too much money and time talking about the pipes and the hard infrastructure, rather than focus on the technological imagination that is required or accessible.