Key findings and next steps
Explore key findings and next steps from the latest wave of the study.
Digital inclusion at the national level is improving. From an average Index score of 67.5 in 2020, to 71.1 in 2021 .
The divide between metropolitan and regional areas has narrowed but remains marked. Regional areas record 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 number of Australians who are highly excluded has declined but remains substantial. 11% of the Australian population is highly excluded, registering an Index score of 45 or below.
Access scores are increasing at the national level, but these improvements are not evenly shared by all Australians. While the national Access score has increased from 69.4 in 2020 to 70 in 2021, mobile-only users (43.4), people over 75 years of age (53.5), people who did not complete secondary school (57.0), people who rent from a public housing authority (57.2), or fall into the lowest income quintile (57.7) are being left behind.
The number of mobile only users has slightly declined: from 10.2% in 2020 to 9.6% in 2021. However, in 2021 some groups, including single persons (22.6%) and public housing renters (25.12%), continue to be overrepresented in their reliance on mobile only access.
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, reliable connectivity. For Australians in the lowest income quintile, most (67%) would have to pay more than 10% of their household income to gain this same connection.
Digital Ability has slightly improved, with the national average increasing 0.8 points from 2020 to 64.4 in 2021. But the score for basic operational skills—such as downloading and opening files, connecting to the internet, and setting passwords—has fallen slightly: from 73.5 in 2020 to 73.1 in 2021. This is potentially related to a growth in new users due to the digital uplift of services during COVID-19. Read more about our revised approach to Digital Ability, and what it currently looks like in Australia, here.
While digital inclusion remains closely tied to age, there are signs the digital inclusion of mid-life and senior Australians is improving. Reflecting the increased importance of internet access for social connections and service access during COVID-19 restrictions , older Australians recorded an increase in digital inclusion between 2020 and 2021. The total Index scores of 45-54-year-olds increased by 5.1 points (67.2 to 72.3), 55-64-year-olds increased by 4.9 points (61.9 to 66.8), 65-74-year-olds increased by 3.9 points (53.4 to 57.3), and 75+ year-olds increased by 6.1 points (41.3 to 47.4).
Digital inclusion increases with education, employment, and income. Australians with a bachelor’s degree or higher recorded a total Index score of 77.9, 25.2 points higher than those who did not complete secondary school (52.7). Employed Australians registered an Index score of 77.5, 15.9 points higher than those outside of the labour market all together (61.6). And, in 2021, there was a gap of 26.5 points between people in the lowest and highest 20% of household income. This gap has widened slightly from 25.3 points in 2020.
Australians who speak a language other than English at home are in general more digitally included than others. People in this demographic group recorded a 2021 Index score of 73.9 (up 3 on the 2020 score of 70.9). This is 3.5 points higher than Australians who only speak English, and 2.9 points higher than the 2021 national score. People in this demographic group are diverse in their age, education, and employment status, and it follows that a wide range of digital inclusion outcomes are likely.
The composition of the household matters. Couples with children are the most digitally included household type in Australia, recording an Index score of 78; 6.9 points higher than the national score. Australians who live alone are comparatively much less digitally included, registering an Index score of 61.5, 16.5 points lower than couples with children.
The type of housing tenure also matters. Private renters have the highest Index score of all housing tenure types, increasing from 72.6 in 2020 to 74.6 in 2021. Social housing renters, on the other hand, record an Index score of 61.5 (a small increase of 0.8 points since 2020), 9.6 points lower than the national average. Going some way to explain this gap, more than a quarter (25.12%) of social renters are mobile-only users, compared to just 11.37% of private renters .
Next steps for digital inclusion in Australia
The ADII 2021 findings show that, while Australia’s digital transformation continues to accelerate, some Australians are missing out on the benefits, and risk being left behind in the post-COVID economy. It is good news that the number of people who are highly excluded has fallen over time. However, a substantial number are still in this situation.
As services from health to education shift in whole or part to modes of automated, online delivery, the consequences of exclusion for these Australians are likely to translate into lost opportunities and restricted options for work, education, citizenship, and social connection.
Important improvements in network access over recent years have been critical to enabling many Australians, and many organisations, to maintain essential activities and connections through the pandemic. However, the experience of the pandemic also underlines the scale of the challenge, which includes, but is by no means limited to the enhancement of infrastructure.
At the level of government programs, digital skills and abilities initiatives to date have not been co-ordinated. Some useful steps have been taken to alleviate the affordability problem, but to date these have been on a temporary or provisional basis. Many low-income Australian households have spent long periods in lockdown without a low cost, high quality, fixed broadband product in the marketplace. Access to affordable devices that are appropriate for online work and education has also emerged as a major challenge.
Remote First Nations communities have been required to respond to the pandemic often without adequate communications. Meeting the challenge of Australia’s Closing the Gap targets for digital inclusion will require a substantial effort to support the development of effective local strategies, combined with the necessary data collection to track outcomes at a national level.
The provision of affordable broadband across all our cities and regions must therefore remain a high priority for public policy, business, and the community. Targeted initiatives and programs that build digital capabilities are a vital area for investment and development.
Change will require sustained commitment and collaboration from all levels of government, private industry, the not-for-profit sector, and the broader community. It is pleasing to see many organisations, educational institutions, public sector agencies and communities taking up this challenge. However, the evidence shows that we need to do more. As a community we are now planning the economic and social rebuilding of Australia after the pandemic. Digital inclusion should be an integral part of our planning.
 Please note, total figures may not add up due to rounding to one decimal place.
 A McCosker, J Tucker, C Critchley, K Hiruy, J Walshe, R Suchowerska, and J Barraket, Improving the Digital Inclusion of Older Australians: The Social Impact of Be Connected, 2020. Melbourne: Swinburne University of Technology. https://doi.org/10.25916/5ed5b6e204a95
Australian Communications and Media Authority, Communications and Media in Australia: How We Use the Internet, 2021. Accessed September 12, 2021. https://www.acma.gov.au/publications/2021-05/report/communications-and-media-australia-how-we-use-internet
 A Goeury, and F McMillan, Rental Connect Research Study: Issues Faced by Renters in Australia’s Phone and Internet Market, 2018. Accessed September 19, 2021. https://accan.org.au/ACCAN%20Rental%20Connect%20-%20Report%2004.10.2018_FINAL.pdf