Swathes of suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne are falling behind the internet revolution, with data showing one in 10 households have no connection from home – not even from a smartphone.
More than 190,000 households in Sydney, and 185,000 in Melbourne, said they didn’t have access to the internet through any device, including tablets, phones, games consoles, laptops or computers in the 2016 Census.
Mapping out the suburbs to show where there are more disconnected households in both cities shows a clear correlation between low-socioeconomic neighbourhoods and the likelihood that the home has remained internet-free.
In Sydney, these blackout suburbs roughly align with the city’s “latte line” – a guideline that shows the split between low-socioeconomic areas in the west and south-west and wealthier areas in the north and east.
In Melbourne, the alignment between socio-economic trends and internet access is not as pronounced, though there is a clear trend for the eastern and inner suburbs to be more likely to say their households are connected.
University of Sydney’s Tooran Alizadeh said these households were not disconnected due to lack of access – rather it’s about “take up”of available services.
“Different take up rates have been explained by socio-economic status, especially education, and also housing ownership rate,” she said.
A further breakdown of census data shows 44 per cent of state or territory housing authority tenants across the country did not access the internet from their home on any device.
This was twice the rate of those who owned their home outright, at 21 per cent, a tenure type most likely to correlate with retirees and older Australians.
Those who owned a home with a mortgage were most likely to have access, with just 5 per cent saying they did not, while almost 12 per cent of renters from a real estate agent said they did not have access.
University of NSW City Futures director Bill Randolph agreed it was a combination of disadvantage and age that made up this disconnected population.
Frequently, older households also correlate with lower-income households either due to actual low-socioeconomic status or low income in retirement.
“Technology inequality is likely to be the next big thing,” he said, urging for more research into the topic.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the question provides information about households that lack access to the internet and “may therefore be in danger of social exclusion”.
In Sydney, areas with high proportions of disconnected households included collections of suburbs in the Mount Druitt area, south-west pocket around Villawood and patches of the Central Coast.
Richmond was also among the areas that showed up and some parts of the Hawkesbury. In these areas, Mr Randolph said lack of coverage could have an impact.
In Melbourne, the northern suburbs, including Reservoir, Thomastown, Hadfield, Broadmeadows and Lalor had lower levels of connected households.
Western areas, including Werribee South, Mount Cottrell, Rockbank, Laverton North, Altona North, Sunshine West and St Albans, also stood out.
In some of these areas, such as St Albans, more than half the population is 65 or older.
South eastern suburbs Dandenong South and neighbouring Bangholme, where 60 per cent of the population was older than 65, were also less likely to access the internet from home.
Demographer for demographic and spatial consultants .id (Informed Decisions) Glenn Capuano said older populations without access were one factor, but it could also be due to non-English speaking populations.
“It’s possible some of them may have misinterpreted the question,” he said.
Some might only have smartphone access, but still have answered ‘No’ to the question of whether they had internet connection at home, he said.
“So a combination of low socio-economic, poor English proficiency, and age”.
Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found 1.3 million households were without internet access at home in fiscal 2014.
Most said they did not have a need for the internet, with 63 per cent saying this was the major reason.
A lack of confidence or knowledge, and cost, were other main reasons – at 22 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.
Households with children under 15 years old were most likely to say cost was a factor, at 43 per cent. Those without young children were most likely to say they didn’t have a need for it.
Those who were younger, highly educated and employed were most likely to use the internet.
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