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Introduction

The aim of this report is to examine whether a digital divide exists in New Zealand. It will identify the main household characteristics that influence this divide. It will also investigate where it can be found and whom it is affecting.

Information technology (IT), including the use of computers and the Internet, is increasingly commonplace in New Zealand homes and workplaces. A technologically literate population has the potential to participate in the knowledge economy on a global level. Access to the Internet provides New Zealanders with the opportunity to develop skills to participate in this knowledge economy and society (Maharey, 2000).

The Internet is an important means of accessing a wide range of information and services. People who are unable to access information technologies or who are without the skills to use them run the risk of being excluded from possible social, educational, cultural and economic benefits. This may have adverse effects on their educational outcomes, employment prospects and other aspects of wellbeing (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003).

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of Internet access in the world. In 2002 it was ranked eighth in the OECD for number of Internet users (per 10,000 population) and fifteenth for the number of PCs (per 100 population) (International Telecommunication Union, 2003).

The Internet has provided improved opportunities for New Zealand businesses to access international markets. The Business Practices Survey, 2001 showed that 88 percent of New Zealand private sector enterprises used a computer at least once a week, 79 percent of New Zealand enterprises had access to the Internet and used email, while 36 percent had a website (Statistics New Zealand, 2001).

Growth in the IT industry is reflected in the employment market. Between the 1996 and 2001 Censuses, the number of people gaining post-school qualifications in IT almost doubled and the total number of people involved in IT related occupations increased by 76 percent (Statistics New Zealand, 2001).

In recognising the need to provide rural communities with the same opportunities to interact with new technologies, the current Government has responded with an initiative to have broadband Internet access available to all schools and most provincial communities by the end of 2004. This will ensure rural schools receive the same level of access as their urban counterparts (Ministry of Education, 2003).

International research has suggested that the spread of information technologies such as the Internet is initially limited to households with high incomes and education. This is a result of the costs associated with new technologies, the knowledge of the benefits associated with each and also the skills required to use them. The new technology spreads to lower socio-economic groups as the technology becomes less expensive and more accessible (Statistics Canada, 2002, 3–17).

The ‘digital divide’ is a term describing the gap between information ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ or, put another way, who has access to the Internet and who does not. For the purpose of this report, the digital divide is defined as the gap that exists between different types of households and geographic areas with regard to their opportunities to access information through the Internet. The divide will be measured as the difference in levels of household Internet connectivity.

The 2001 Census of Population and Dwellings is the primary source of data, and is supplemented by data from the 2000/01 Household Economic Survey (HES). The 2001 Census included for the first time a question relating to household access to the Internet and fax machines.

The report begins by looking at household characteristics such as income, highest qualifications, age of youngest occupant and the presence of dependent children. Using multivariate analysis it then identifies the most important indicators in predicting whether a household is connected to the Internet. Next, it examines the geographic patterns of household Internet connection. It looks at which regions are most connected and examines the different levels of connectivity between urban and rural areas of New Zealand.

This report has limitations due to the nature of the data. It is unable to measure the extent to which the Internet is used within households or who in the household accesses the Internet. The report is not able to show what purpose the Internet is used for – such as to gain knowledge or to play on-line games. It does not include any information on the number and characteristics of people who access the Internet outside their homes, either at work or in public spaces such as libraries, community centres and schools. Finally, it is not possible to identify those individuals who have an Internet connection in their dwelling but do not use it.

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