WA govt probes state's digital experience to improve inclusion

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WA govt probes state's digital experience to improve inclusion

Wants to address connectivity, affordability concerns.

The WA government has asked the public to detail their experience accessing technology and online services in the state, including any issue with connectivity, in a bid to improve digital inclusion.

IT Minister Dave Kelly kicked off consultation on the state’s draft digital inclusion blueprint, which proposes a “coordinated approach” between government and industry.

The process will be used to gather feedback on how to make the state more “digitally inclusive” and inform the development of a more complete blueprint before early 2021.

The draft blueprint, developed by the Office for Digital Government, identifies four priority areas for digital inclusion: connectivity, affordability, digital skills and government service design.

WA defines digital inclusion as “giv[ing] people of all ages, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, abilities, income levels and locations, the skills and tools to access and engage with digital technology and online services”.

But the state currently “sits below the national average for digital inclusion, ranking fourth out of eight Australian states and territories”.

Connectivity, particularly affordable connectivity, is at the heart of this, with around 12 percent of the state’s households without access to the internet. 

In WA’s lowest income bracket, that figure climbs to 26 percent.

“Many regional communities in WA only have access to costly, poor-quality and low bandwidth internet, and in some cases, even consistent mobile reception can be difficult to access,” the blueprint states.

“People are often reliant on mobile devices or satellite services to get online, which can be more expensive with less data available for everyday use.”

The blueprint indicates that this lack of connectivity can lead to Western Australians being “excluded from the opportunities and benefits [of the internet or digital technologies] enjoyed by others”.

“Many of the challenges of digital inclusion are interdependent, and are likely to get worse as technologies and infrastructure become redundant, people’s need for data grows, and as more government services move online with greater levels of interactivity,” it suggests.

The blueprint also places a focus on digital skills, with those without the necessary skills more susceptible to “cyber-attacks, online scams and bullying”.

Online government services also need to be “accessible and inclusively designed”.

The government hopes to change this, and has developed a range of possible digital inclusion initiatives to address the four areas of concern following inter-jurisdictional research and analysis.

Some of the options on the table include developing “a ‘one dig’ approach for WA on optic fibre investment” and “using excess government bandwidth for public community wi-fi”, as well as providing “unmetered access and reduced prices for gov.au and edu.au services”.

The government also hopes to continue migrating content and services onto its single whole-of-government digital services portal, which was launched in early 2018, so that “all government sites are available in one accessible source”.

"The McGowan Government is committed to empowering all members of the Western Australian community to confidently and safely enjoy the benefits of digital technologies in their everyday lives,” Kelly said.

“The recent pandemic has further highlighted the challenges for those in our community who do not have ready access to these technologies. 

"The draft blueprint outlines a strategy for government, community, and industry to work together to build on existing initiatives as well as develop new ways to improve digital inclusion for Western Australians.”

Submissions to the consultation will close on September 18.

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