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Digital inclusion improving nationally but more on affordability and access

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The Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2021 (ADII) shows digital inclusion at the national level is improving, but a substantial number of Australians remain excluded.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic requiring greater reliance on online technologies to manage daily life, digital inclusion is more important than ever; and while the nation has seen improvements overall, these improvements are not evenly shared by all Australians.

Key findings from the 2021 Index:

  • Affordability remains central to closing the digital divide. Based on our Affordability measure, 14% of all Australians would need to pay more than 10% of their household income to gain quality, uninterrupted connectivity.
  • The national Index score in 2021 is 71.1, up 3.6 points from the 2020 score of 67.5.
  • Australian Capital Territory ranked highest with an Index score of 77. The least digitally included states are South Australia (69) and Tasmania (66).
  • The divide between metropolitan and regional areas has narrowed but remains marked. Regional areas recorded an Index score in 2021 of 67.4. This is 3.6 points less than the national average (71.1), and 5.5 points less than metropolitan Australia (72.9).
  • The percentage of highly excluded Australians has decreased between 2020 and 2021. In 2020, 17% of the Australian population were highly excluded (defined as recording an Index score of 45 or below). In 2021, this has dropped to 11% of the population.
  • The percentage of excluded Australians (defined as recording an Index score of above 45 and below 61) has not changed since 2020 and remains at 17% of the national population.
  • Taken together, the number of highly excluded and excluded Australians is substantial, equalling 28% of the national population in 2021.
  • Cyber safety is also a significant concern for highly excluded and excluded Australians, with this concern rising 3% between 2020 and 2021. In 2021, 20% of highly excluded and excluded Australians are so concerned about privacy and scams that it limits their internet use.

*ADII scores range from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the greater the level of digital inclusion. ADII scores are relative: they allow comparisons across different social groups and geographic areas, and over time.

* ADII scores may not add up due to rounding.

“Recent experience has underlined the importance of affordable and accessible digital services for all Australians. The Index results show we have more work to do to ensure that all Australians are included as we move online,” said Professor Julian Thomas, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society at RMIT.



For Telstra, understanding the gaps across Australia helps them make sure they’re directing their support to the right areas.

“This data helps us make sure that we’re targeting our support to areas where we can really make a difference,” said Lyndall Stoyles, Telstra’s Group Executive for Sustainability, External Affairs and Legal. “We’re building a connected future so everyone can thrive and, so that everyone truly means everyone,” Stoyles said.

“Telstra runs a range of targeted programs that help people access, afford and develop digital ability whether that’s helping seniors be more tech savvy or providing supported services for vulnerable customers.”

First developed in 2015, the ADII is an annual study led by Telstra, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society at RMIT, and the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) Swinburne that provides a comprehensive picture of Australia’s online participation by measuring three key dimensions of digital inclusion: Access, Affordability, and Digital Ability.

The Index helps focus policymakers, businesses, and community organisations on the issue of digital inclusion and importantly informs the development of more effective policies, products, and programs to improve digital inclusion.

“The changes to Australians’ daily lives since the emergence of COVID-19 include huge digital uplift so that we can do more online,” said CSI Swinburne’s Director, Distinguished Professor Jo Barraket.

“This has deepened the digital divide and we need more than ever to understand and address the factors that are leaving people and places behind.”

Updates to the Index in 2021:

The Index was updated in 2021 using a new data set and methodology in response to a series of emerging challenges and opportunities, including:

  • Rapid and ongoing changes in digital technologies.
  • The growing significance of the online distribution and consumption of consumer and public services.
  • Maximising data utility and responding to requests from stakeholders for richer data insights that include the public release of more of the data that underpins the index.
  • Interest from stakeholders in having access to a customised digital inclusion survey and reporting tool they could use to measure digital inclusion in their own communities.

The updated Index is underpinned by a purpose-built digital inclusion survey and also includes new interactive data dashboards.

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