The Diffusion of New Technologies: Community Online Access Centres in Indigenous Communities in Australia

The Diffusion of New Technologies: Community Online Access Centres in Indigenous Communities in Australia

Anne Daly (University of Canberra, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-116-2.ch009


This chapter presents data from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing to highlight the low levels of computer and Internet usage by indigenous Australians. This result is not surprising, given the well-documented connection between education, income, location of residence and use of these technologies. One possible way of addressing the digital divide between capital city dwellers and other Australians is through the development of community online access centres. Using evidence from the literature and from fieldwork in New South Wales, the chapter considers some factors that are likely to make these centres more successful. These include a strong commitment by the community to the development of a centre and a close integration of the centre with community activities. It is important that significant funds be budgeted to training for all involved including centre staff and community members.
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There has been a general concern that particular groups have been left behind in the diffusion of new information and communications technology (ICT) and the related skill development, and that this may have long term implications for the ability of these people to participate in society. indigenous Australians, both aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, are among those at risk. Earlier research by Lloyd and Hellwig (2000) looked at the determinants of the take-up of the Internet. They found that educational qualifications and income were the major determinants of access to the Internet at home. Living outside a major urban area was also associated with lower levels of computer and Internet usage. On the basis of all these indicators, indigenous Australians were expected to fall on the wrong side of the digital divide. Education levels and income are lower for this group than for non-indigenous Australians (Altman, Biddle, & Hunter, 2004). In addition, a larger proportion of indigenous compared to other Australians live outside the capital cities. Access to the Internet has been less reliable and more costly in these areas than in the cities (Besley, 2000; Regional Telecommunications Inquiry [RTI], 2002).

The 2001 Population Census was the first census to ask Australians about their access to computers and the Internet. The results show that while 30% of non-indigenous Australians had access to the Internet at home, less than 10% of indigenous Australians did. Other research has also documented low levels of computer access at home for school-aged indigenous Australians (Dyson, 2003). The purpose of this chapter is to examine the census evidence on computer and Internet usage for indigenous Australians and to consider whether the development of community online access centres can help to bridge the digital divide between indigenous and other Australians. It highlights the indicators of success and the limitations these centres have faced using evidence from the literature and fieldwork conducted in New South Wales (NSW).

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