An analysis of unequal connectivity in Carlton Housing Estate, Melbourne, Victoria
This project was funded by a Melbourne Social Equity Institute 2020 Seed Funding Grant and by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
Australia has some of the best internet coverage globally, and yet in 2018 approximately 2.5 million Australians had no internet connection. This reveals significant limitations in access, digital ability, and affordability, despite major infrastructure investments (ACCAN, 2021).
While recent research suggests that these numbers have dropped due to the online demands that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic (ACMA, 2021), access, affordability, and adequacy of connection for some citizens remain out of reach due to a range of barriers. To ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to use digital technologies, and thus to ensure access to social and economic opportunities and essential government services, targeted investments to reduce digital inequality are necessary.
Digital inclusion in Australia is influenced by a person’s income, age, education level, and residential location. This report demonstrates that digital inequality is not measured by access to internet alone, but also by quality of service and internet providers’ accountability in the face of poor customer experience. Focus on the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia has led policymakers to overlook the many people who access the internet predominantly with their smartphones or who rely on their smartphones to augment poor home internet connections. The roll out of the NBN has led many to assume that high quality internet has been brought into everyone’s reach. This assumption means that the consequences of poor connectivity risk becoming less visible, and exacerbates concerns for the people who continue to experience digital exclusion.
Working with principles of co-design with community partners and Carlton public housing residents, we conducted a case study of how people manage digital inequality. Our data analysis revealed that people were not as digitally connected during the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns as the services upon which they depended assumed they were. Online home-schooling demanded a 1:1 device to person ratio and many low-income families needed to buy or request assistance to meet this demand. Additional constraints were felt in access to employment, and in essential services such as health and income support (Centrelink).
Understanding Digital Inequality: An Analysis of Unequal Connectivity in Carlton Housing Estate, Melbourne, Victoria
Download the 44-page report including the Executive Summary and recommendations.
A two-page summary of the Understanding Digital Inequality research report is available in six languages.
Dr Nicky Dulfer, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
Catherine Smith, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
Dr Ellen van Holstein, School of School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences / RMIT
Dr Alice Garner, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
Lia Acosta Rueda, School of Social and Political Sciences
Lloyd Rouse, School of Social and Political Sciences
Sabah Hamed, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
Kerrii Cavanagh, Community Projects Officer, Strategy and Culture
Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner, School of Social and Political Sciences
Dr Marc Cheong, School of Computer and Information Systems
Fiona Darling, City of Melbourne
Fiona Addison, City of Melbourne
Louise Caddell, City of Melbourne
Natasha Savic, Yarra Libraries and Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance
Elle Morrell, Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre
Sarah Deasey, Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre
Khadra Omar, MyPlace
Sally Beattie, MyPlace
Bich-Hoa Ha, cohealth
Sahil Puri, Unilodge
Van Holstein, E., Dulfer, N., Smith, C., Garner, A. (2023). The alternate infrastructures of digital inclusion in counter cities: digital inequality in an Australian public housing estate. Cities. 137, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2023.104328 (open access)
For information about this project, please contact:
Banner and report cover image: Tom Carment, Carlton Flats, 2016, oil on linen 24x19.5cm, reproduced with permission of the artist.