Urgent action must be taken to close Tasmania's gaping digital divide, an alliance of interest groups says.
Tasmania frequently scores the lowest of all states in the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. It was against this backdrop that the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council identified both digital infrastructure and digital inclusion as priority areas to address to reduce inequality
More than 65,000 Tasmanians are unable to participate online, making Tasmania the "most digitally disadvantaged state in the country", according to Tasmanian Council of Social Service chief executive Adrienne Picone.
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"The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the digital divide in our state that without urgent action is at risk of becoming even wider," Ms Picone said.
"Access to digital services is essential for daily life, in the same way as electricity and water, and as the first state to see the full rollout of the NBN network, we should be making the most of the opportunities that digital technology brings.
"From remote schooling, to working from home or researching and applying for jobs, having access to devices and the internet has never been more vital."
TasCOSS is one of eight organisations to have signed a joint statement calling on political parties and candidates to commit to a number of initiatives to improve digital access, including:
- Improving Tasmania's ADII score across all indices to at least the national average by 2025;
- Investing in community-based digital literacy initiatives;
- Introducing a telecommunications concession and working with telcos to provide unmetered access to government, emergency and essential services websites;
- Creating a digital infrastructure fund to invest in infrastructure extension to regional and rural areas to ensure more Tasmanians have access to reliable, high-speed internet; and
- Providing dongles/data to state government school students, from upper primary through to Year 12.
Some of the other groups in the digital inclusion alliance include the Beacon Foundation, Carers Tasmania and Council on the Ageing Tasmania.
At a debate hosted on Thursday by the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Property Council of Australia, both Liberal leader Peter Gutwein and Labor leader Rebecca White spoke of the importance of digital access.
Mr Gutwein said the Liberals "accept and understand" the need to reduce the number of black spots across the state and to ensure that Tasmanians have access to high-speed internet.
"But, importantly, we also know and understand there's also a training aspect to this and there is also the need to provide devices in the first place," he said. "I'll have more to say about that as the campaign rolls on."
Ms White said Tasmania's digital divide was a "big issue".
"There are opportunities for us to invest both in the built infrastructure to ensure that we improve our telecommunications network across Tasmania to remove those black spots where we don't have coverage, which is both a hindrance to economic development but also social engagement," she said.
"And I think that that's something that's definitely worth considering and thinking about how we might invest [in] that, to make sure we can partner with local government and those telcos to deliver those services, but also provide access to local services and local communities."
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