Regional Australia continues to lag behind the rest of the country in the uptake of internet technologies, in spite of a rapid growth in access via mobile phone handsets, a new study has found.
A report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority showing changes to internet access between 2009 and 2013 reveals growth in all regions, with an explosion in mobile use particularly noteworthy.
In December 2009, just five per cent of Australians living in towns of under 1,000 people used a mobile handset to access the internet. In December 2013, that figure had increased to 32 per cent, but still well below the national average of 46 per cent.
“While regional disparities in participation levels do exist, the gap is closing in some areas,” an ACMA release said.
“Internet users in major urban areas are only slightly behind their major capital city counterparts in levels of internet connectivity and frequency of internet use. They are equal in terms of intensity of online participation.”
However, ACMA’s figures also show that growth in access to other technologies has been slow.
Just 72 per cent of those in non-urban areas had internet connection in their home in December 2013. That marks only a two percentage point increase on the same period four years earlier.
By contrast, the number of Australians in major capital cities with a home connection rose by six percentage points, to 84.
Paul Fletcher, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, has used the findings in the report to talk up the government’s Mobile Black Spot Programme, which will fund 250-300 new mobile base stations to help lower the number of areas without coverage.
“What this study shows is that mobile connectivity is an indispensable feature of everyday life for people living in rural and regional Australia,” a release from Mr Fletcher said.
The Government is expected to announce the location of the base stations, and the winner of the contract for the project, in 2015.
The ACMA report also found Australians are going online with greater regularity and that streaming had overtaken downloading as the most popular way to access entertainment material.
“Across all regions, Australians are diversifying their online activities to include email, research, banking, entertainment, blogging and social networking.”
Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland could not be contacted for comment.
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