We’ve come a long way from the early days of dial-up Internet in New Zealand. With the roll out of ultra-fast and rural broadband, New Zealand is considered one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world. Today, the Internet has become an essential tool for everyday life.
Digital divides are the different ways in which people are included or excluded from meaningful use of the Internet and digital technologies. While these divides are shrinking as more people find their way online, the impacts for those who remain excluded is growing, and this is affecting our most vulnerable people and communities. A variety of New Zealand stats and research highlight that:
- 93% of New Zealanders can use or access the Internet, but only 80% have a home connection. That’s roughly 1out of 10 New Zealanders being left behind online. 
- An estimated 100,000 school-aged children are without Internet access at home. 
- 16,000 rural households will not have access to fibre by the time the government supported fibre roll out is complete.
COLLABORATION FOR CHANGE
In 2018, InternetNZ and Vodafone New Zealand Foundation joined forces to fund research into New Zealand’s Digital Divide. While both organisations seek to improve the lives of New Zealanders in different ways, both believe digital inclusion improves social inclusion.
- Vodafone New Zealand Foundation is committed to providing young people with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. Their goal is to halve the number of excluded and disadvantaged young people in Aotearoa New Zealand by 2027. Digital inclusion plays an important role in supporting that goal.
- InternetNZ is the home and guardian of .nz domains. They also help New Zealanders harness the power of the Internet through research, policy and their community programme of $800,000 each year. They want to see universal access to the Internet for all New Zealanders.
Vanisa Dhiru, Community Manager at InternetNZ says “Vodafone Foundation approached us with the idea of a project to raise visibility of digitally excluded people in New Zealand, and their experiences. It’s a topic close to our hearts, so together we worked on the best approach, and reached out to Marianne Elliott from The Workshop to lead this work.”
OUT OF THE MAZE
While various other reports have created a baseline for what digital inclusion looks like for New Zealand, “Out of the Maze” takes a qualitative approach to examine what it means to live offline. It explores digital inclusion from the perspective of people and caregivers who have first-hand, lived experiences with access issues.
For both organisations, an important part of the qualitative research method included members of the InternetNZ and Vodafone Foundation teams joining The Workshop at meetings in Ngaio, Kawerau, Mangere, and Westport to listen to the groups considered at risk of missing out on connectivity. These groups included young people (16-24), people with disabilities, migrant and former refugees, Māori and Pasifika, and parents and caregivers of school-aged children.
“We got to meet the people who were being interviewed, and it really enriched our own experiences and (gave us an) invaluable understanding of how these communities are using the Internet and how it fits into their lives,” says Nicola Brown, Policy Advisor at InternetNZ.
#1. Barriers: it’s not just about access
The research identified six broad barriers to internet access. Barriers were different for everybody, with some facing multiple barriers.
- Financial. The cost of devices, including adaptive devices for people with disabilities, the cost of getting connected, and ongoing contracts or data plans.
- Physical. This was broken into three areas:
- infrastructure and availability
- physical location and accessibility of free Internet services
- accessible devices, platforms, software and websites to suit the needs of users with disabilities.
- Motivational. Low motivation and self-esteem undermined motivation to learn new skills, including digital skills.
- Trust and safety. Concern about the potential risks or harmful results of being online including physical safety, scams, pranks, and cyberbullying.
- Skills. Low levels of literacy were identified as a barrier, rather than specific digital skills.
- Capacity. Having the time, energy or resilience to persevere when faced with technical difficulties, or to keep up with new forms of communication and digital platforms.
#2. Harming the most vulnerable
The effects of digital exclusion are impacting some of our most vulnerable people. The research showed that:
- Digital exclusion is not static. People are most vulnerable during transition points, with examples including when leaving an abusive relationship or moving out of home.
- For a small number of people, removing specific barriers to digital access may be sufficient. However, overall the research pointed to a need to remove broader social and economic barriers, to create more conducive conditions for interventions to increase digital inclusion.
A common theme in all the research was the need to consult with excluded people, and to work in partnership with trusted community groups to build capacity to solve their own problems.
“We need to value the voices of those with lived experience, or we risk further imbedding social and digital inequalities, and creating solutions that don’t adequately remove barriers to participation,” says Lani Evans, Foundation Manager at Vodafone New Zealand Foundation “Co-design, community centred solutions and participatory practice can help us do this well.”
Graphics from the Out of the Maze report. Credit: Megan Salole
Out of the Maze provided participant-sourced solutions aimed at various sectors, including funders. Three takeaways specific to funders included:
- Funding free wifi, devices and – where needed – training to groups and communities facing economic and other barriers to digital inclusion.
- Funding the creation of custom-made mobile, digital access portals specially designed to ensure that people in times of transition or heightened need can access ‘essential services’ to communicate with friends and family.
- Funding safe, welcoming spaces where people can access digital devices and services, and develop the skills, motivation and confidence to use them.
“Through this report we hope that more grantmakers will recognise the significance of digital divides in NZ and the impact that digital exclusion can have in terms of isolation, powerlessness and limited opportunities,” says Lani.
The research and collaboration has changed the way InternetNZ is thinking about its future research and funding too. “This collaboration was such a positive experience. We need to know what other funders are doing in this space and we are open to more collaboration.” says Vanisa, “Collaboration fits with our whakataukī, that was gifted to us too: ‘Kua raranga tahi tātou he whāriki ipurangi mo āpopo’: together we weave the map, in terms of the Internet, for future generations. To make progress on this issue, we need to be weaving this map together, as we can’t continue to let Kiwis facing digital exclusion slip through the net.”
Read the report at: https://report.digitaldivides.nz/
 State of the Internet Survey 2017 https://internetnz.nz/sites/default/files/SOTI%20FINAL.pdf
 Pulse of the Nation report https://www.mbie.govt.nz/assets/218c439f72/digital-new-zealanders-the-pulse-of-our-nation.pdf