Mr Rue said NBN Co supported a basic, low-price NBN data product.
“But we must also consider that the success of a sustainable, low-income offer depends on so much more than just NBN Co,” he said.
“This, of course, is not something that we can achieve by ourselves. It will require constant dialogue and collaboration among the industry, consumer groups and state and federal governments.”
The McKell Institute research was sponsored by Telstra – which has conceded it downgraded its premium internet speed without reducing prices – and the Queensland Council of Social Service.
Bridging Queensland’s Digital Divide showed Queenslanders outside the heavily populated south-east corner were falling behind.
It detailed how Queensland ranked fifth and was falling behind other states, in terms of providing suitable digital technology to the state.
Bridging Queensland’s widening digital divide 2021
- Queensland has a poor digital affordability ranking.
- Digital exclusion is strongly related to income.
- People living in north-west Queensland are the least likely to use the internet for a complex range of tasks other than texting, Google searching and social media.
- People in coastal Queensland expend a relatively high proportion of their income on digital services, compared with people living in SEQ.
- The income digital inclusion gap is wider today than it was in 2014.
- In Queensland, inner Brisbane is the most digitally active region, while north-west Queensland is the least digitally active region.
- The biggest problem is “the cost of data”, a Queensland Council of Social Service survey found.
- QCOSS data reveals that Queenslanders simply go without digital technology when they cannot afford data plans.
Source: McKell Institute: Bridging Queensland Digital Divide Report September 2021.
McKell Institute executive director Rachel Nolan – a former Labor Queensland government minister – said widening digital exclusion was impacting residents who were already marginalised.
“The Queensland Council of Social Service surveyed its member organisations and found 76 per cent of the people who accessed their services simply went without when they could not afford data plans,” she said.
Ms Nolan said the promise of digital technology was not increasing the living standards equally across the state or Australia.
“As economic, civic and social life moves increasingly online, there are many, many people who can’t afford it, or have the skills, and are being left out,” she said.
“If that is not addressed, then digital technology becomes a driver of exclusion, not inclusion, and of social dislocation.”
The McKell Institute recommended the Queensland government transformed public libraries and community centres into digital access centres.
Both Ms Nolan and Queensland Council of Social Service executive director Amy McVeigh called for the government-owned NBN to offer discounted data packages to people receiving government benefits.
Mr Rue told the annual Australian Communications Consumer Action Network conference research showed Australian broadband was “relatively affordable”.
“This research, which was commissioned by NBN and conducted by Accenture, shows that in a comparison of 13 OECD countries, Australia saw the largest improvement in affordability between financial year ’18 and FY20, and ranks sixth overall across comparable speed tiers.”
Ms McVeigh warned digital exclusion was being “weaponised” by perpetrators of domestic violence against women.
“They know that women are unable to access the services they need to keep themselves safe,” Ms McVeigh said.
“Digital exclusion is leading to some pretty terrible outcomes for more disadvantaged and more vulnerable people.”
Both Ms Nolan and Ms McVeigh also called on the Queensland government to develop “a 10-year road map” to improve digital services in regional Queensland.