Sunday, November 20, 2011

A fair go for all in the digital era: Towards a Digital Inclusion Roadmap

From ‘Connecting Communities’ to the Digital Summit Dr Tim Williams has facilitated and harnessed a range of views to consider Australia’s digital future.

Responding to this challenge Huawei, community sector partners Community Sector Banking, industry partners Australian Information Industry Association and webcast partners Viocorp came together to sponsor and promote the first National Digital Inclusion Summit held in Parliament House, Canberra on 17 August 2011.

The two main challenges set for the summit were: what is the challenge of digital inclusion in Australia as the NBN arrives, and how can we overcome it?

A fair go for all in the digital era: Towards a Digital Inclusion Roadmap is the result of the NDIS have been compiled by Dr Williams and released by Huawei in November 2011.

It is heartening to see the passion and commitment of those in attendance come through in the report. Here are some highlights in relation to a social enterprise response.

There was a strong sense at the summit of Australia’s tradition of community activism and social enterprise needing to find a new expression in this digital era – and optimism that it could do so. (p7)

A third intervention was more interesting still and evoked the tradition of innovative social enterprise represented by the not-for-profits at the summit. Participants wanted to explore the establishment of a not-for-profit company – perhaps based on community housing providers and their tenants but potentially going beyond these – to provide internet access for disadvantaged and lower socio-economic groups. This could take the form of not-for-profits aggregating their purchasing power in some form of purchasing or procurement club to buy services more cost effectively from ISPs and indeed NBN Co. Another kind of purchasing club might also involve local governments coming together to purchase collectively from ISPs/NBN Co for their own uses or more widely.

The context for these scenarios is affordability of broadband as a potential barrier. Indeed, many pre- sent at the Digital Inclusion Summit noted that affordability of internet services can play a significant role as a contributor to digital exclusion.

When communities do not like the services they are offered, the spirit of the summit was this: they could take matters into their own hands. Imagine a com- munity ISP that offered full speed at the lowest entry-level price. It is possible and it would be transformational. With the tap turned on full across all plans, it would be different from other ISPs and open up innovation in a big way. What makes that possible is charging for traffic; either per GB or according to the chosen data-cap as is most common today.

Social enterprise by not-for-profits who have created enterprise-based solutions before can overcome much of the digital divide was the view of the summit, as long as they understand the opportunity of high speed broadband and what access to it means for their own operations as well as in serving their client groups. (p10-11)

Key actions from the summit include that NFPs collaborate on implementing the digital agenda and on potentially creating ‘demand aggregation’ procurement clubs or social enterprises to enable their organisations and client groups to access lower cost internet services from ISPs or NBN Co.

“More important than any specific thing is a mindset. A way of thinking, an aspiration and a determination to create a digitally one speed nation – a fast one – which leaves no community behind.”     A final thought from the Chair Dr Tim Williams