SYDNEY: Across much of Asia-Pacific, mobile is seen as enhancing the ability of consumers to participate in the digital economy, but this is not necessarily the case in Australia, a new study has found.

More than four million Australians access the internet solely through a mobile connection – they have a mobile phone or mobile broadband device with a data allowance, but no fixed connection – according to the latest Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII).

The Index, constructed by RMIT University, Swinburne University of Technology and Telstra from data gathered in Roy Morgan’s Single Source face-to-face survey, measures the level of access to the internet and related products, services, and activities based on three sub-indices: access, affordability and digital ability.

This found that in 2018, mobile-only users had an ADII score of 42.7 – some 17.5 points below the national average (60.2).

“Being mobile-only not only diminishes access, but also impacts on the affordability and digital ability aspects of digital inclusion,” the study said.

Mobile-only use was also linked with socio-economic factors – people in the lowest household income quintile (29.6%), those with low levels of education (27.2%), and the unemployed (27.0%) were more likely to be mobile-only.

The ADII also revealed differences between rural and urban areas, with digital inclusion 8.5 points higher in capital cities (62.4) than in country areas (53.9).

While the overall ‘Capital–Country gap’ has narrowed slightly over the past three years, from 9.5 (2015) to 8.5 (2018), it remains at the same level as 2014 (8.5).

At the same time there have been fluctuations in the ‘Capital–Country gap’ across the states and territories: over the past 12 months, the gap has narrowed in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia, but expanded in Queensland and South Australia.

The study also noted that there are as many as two-and-a-half million Australians who are not online at all. Report author Professor Julian Thomas, from RMIT’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre, observed that “the people who probably depend most on government services are broadly speaking those who are least digitally included.

“It’s that classic paradox that the people who have the most to gain from the transition to digital are also least likely to be getting the benefits from it,” he said in remarks reported by Smart Company.

Sourced from ADII; Smart Company; additional content by WARC staff