ON 4 March, the Australian Government announced there will be an extension of the Be Connected program, an initiative to help older Australians learn computer, tablet, smartphone and internet skills.
The Be Connected program offers face-to-face computer, tablet, smartphone and internet skills training at participating libraries and community centres. The program provides grants to these community groups so they can purchase devices to provide training. The program also offers free, self-guided online courses on topics such as how to use a smartphone, computer or tablet.
Swinburne University recently released a report that found Be Connected participants gained knowledge as well as confidence in online skills. Although it is great that participants are learning essential online skills through this program, what about the people without access to devices such as smartphones or laptops or internet access?
Someone relying solely on the Age Pension is living on a low income. What is an Age Pensioner to do with their newly formed online skills when they can’t afford to buy a computer or pay monthly internet connection fees?
The self-guided online courses offered by the Be Connected program are only accessible with an internet connection. So, the internet is a must if older people want to continue to improve their online skills.
Skills can be taught at libraries, community centres, or at home online, the Be Connected program has showed us that much. But what use is this if older people still can’t afford access to digital devices and the internet?
Where is the government program aimed at getting people on low incomes affordable digital devices and cheap internet plans? Currently, there isn’t one.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has campaigned for years now for the Australian Government to provide affordable internet services to households on low incomes. ACCAN considers the most effective way to get all Australians online is to offer NBN services to households receiving government payments for $20 per month, more than halving the current average cost of internet services.
Older people on low incomes need ongoing access to digital devices and services, not just skill improvement programs.