What is digital inclusion?

Digital inclusion is one of the most important challenges facing Australia.

What is digital inclusion?

Connected digital technologies are rapidly changing the way we live, learn, and work.

Forced isolation and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated the shift to telehealth, online learning, working from home and e-commerce, and these enablers are part of the new normal. While the digital economy is generating social, cultural, and economic benefits for many Australians, we know these benefits are not equally shared. Digital inclusion is based on the premise that everyone should be able to make full use of digital technologies and the benefits they bring.

In the early days of the internet, access to a connection was considered the primary driver for digital inclusion. Drawing on a history of research in telecommunications, those without a household connection, or with limited access in other ways, were seen as falling on the wrong side of the digital divide [1]. However, it is increasingly clear that connection alone is not enough to ensure digital inclusion [2]. People also need the skills and knowledge to use the internet and digital technologies effectively. The gap between those with and without these skills has been described by researchers as a second level digital divide [3].

A further barrier arises from the costs associated with being online – not only for data, but also for the necessary devices [4].

There are still some groups in the community that have very limited or no access to the internet, and therefore little chance to acquire basic digital skills. However, as both connections and digital skills have gradually improved across the population, researchers and policy makers have become increasingly concerned with what some have called a third digital divide – the ways in which offline social and economic advantages and disadvantages may be reflected in online opportunities, resources, and networks [5].

For these reasons, it remains important to track the social and geographic distribution of digital inclusion across the Australian population. Participation in our increasingly digital economy and society requires a combination of technical and financial resources with specific skills and knowledges. The Australian Digital Inclusion Index therefore brings together measures of our ability to access the internet and digital devices and technologies, our capacity to pay for these things, and our capacity to use these skilfully.

Younger woman working on a laptop outside
Mother and son home schooling in front of computer

Degrees of inclusion and exclusion

In the same way that we identify an income poverty line that reflects the ability of individuals and households to attain minimum acceptable standards of living, we can identify a critical threshold for digital inclusion. This is the point above which a person’s level of access, ability, and capacity to pay for digital technologies enables them to use digital services and participate in contemporary digital economic, civic and social life [6].

Some analysts and researchers describe those without this level of inclusion as experiencing digital poverty: an acute scarcity of the required resources, presenting major barriers to education, work, and vital services. This kind of scarcity may arise where a person is unable to use the internet at home, or where their opportunities to use the internet may be severely limited by their access to data or a suitable device, or because their skills are highly circumscribed.

In the Index, we find a wide range of skills and capacities across the population and across the different dimensions of inclusion. However, based on the resources available to them, we can describe those people with a very low overall score as ‘highly excluded’. Those with a very high score can be described as ‘highly included’.

We do this by identifying the number of Australians who fall within four categories along the continuum of digital exclusion to inclusion.

The Index threshold scores for the four groups are:

ADII Score ranges
Highly excluded
45 or below
Above 45 and below 61
61 and below 80
Highly included
80 and above

This approach will help support more targeted policies and programs by providing a benchmark we can track against.


[1] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Understanding the Digital Divide”, OECD Digital Economy Papers, No. 49, OECD Publishing 2001, https://doi.org/10.1787/236405667766

[2] The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, The Age of Digital Interdependence: Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, 2019. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://www.un.org/en/pdfs/DigitalCooperation-report-for%20web.pdf

[3] E Hargittai, “Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People’s Online Skills,” First Monday 7, no. 4 (2002). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v7i4.942

N Selwyn, “Reconsidering Political and Popular Understandings of the Digital Divide,” New Media & Society 6, no. 3 (2004): 341–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444804042519

L D Stanley, “Beyond Access: Psychosocial Barriers to Computer Literacy Special Issue: ICTs and Community Networking,” The Information Society 19, no. 5 (2003): 407–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/715720560

J A G M van Dijk, “Digital Divide Research, Achievements and Shortcomings,” Poetics 34, no. 4-5 (2006): 221–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2006.05.004

M Warschauer, “Reconceptualising the Digital Divide,” First Monday 7, no. 7 (2002). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v7i7.967

[4] G Ogle, and R Law, Connectivity Costs II: Telecommunications Affordability and Waged Poor Households: Survey Final Report, 2020. Sydney: Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://accan.org.au/Telecommunications%20Affordability%20and%20Waged%20Poor%20Report.pdf

S Wise, Trying to connect: Telecommunications access and affordability among people experiencing financial hardship, 2013. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2013-09/apo-nid35820.pdf

[5] A J A M van Deursen, and E J Helsper, “The Third-Level Digital Divide: Who Benefits Most from Being Online?,” in Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 10) eds. L. Robinson, S. R. Cotton & J. Schulz, 29-52 (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2015). https://doi.org/10.1108/S2050-206020150000010002

[6] J D May, “Digital and Other Poverties: Exploring the Connection in Four East African Countries,” Information Technologies & International Development 8, no. 2 (2012): 33–50.

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