1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/04/2004   
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Contents >> The measures >> Communication

Access to the Internet among Australian households grew rapidly between 1998 and 2002, and 46% of households were using the Internet at home by 2002.1 However, there are substantial differences in levels of access between different groups of the population.

The communication of information, ideas and knowledge is important to many aspects of Australian progress, such as education and economic efficiency. Many aspects of communication - including the freedom and quality of Australia's press, television and radio, and how much we communicate and with whom - are important. This commentary focuses on the Internet, an increasingly important form of communication. Those who have access are able to take advantage of an increasingly diverse range of activities and they communicate with a broad range of people. Many companies, organisations, universities, political parties and individuals have web sites. Online services include education, banking and shopping, while the Internet helps people to work from home or communicate with others, including friends and family.

The number of households connected to the Internet grew rapidly between 1998 and 2002. In 1998, about 1.1 million households (16%) had access to the Internet.1 By 2002 this figure had risen to almost 3.5 million (46% of households). The growth in the number of households connected to the Internet is, as would be expected, reflected in the number of adults accessing the Internet at home. In 2002, adults were more likely to access the Internet at home than anywhere else.1

In 2002, 98% of households connected to the Internet used a computer for access. Between 1998 and 2002, households' access to computers increased, though not as strongly as their access to the Internet. In 1998, just over 3 million households had access to a home computer (44% of households), and 37% of these households were connected to the Internet. By 2002, 4.6 million households (61%) could access a home computer, and three-quarters of them were connected to the Internet. In 2002, the Internet was accessed daily in 37% of households with access to the Internet, with access at least once a week in 91% of such households.

Spending on communication more generally has grown: real household final consumption expenditure on communication more than doubled (in chain volume terms) between 1994-95 and 2002-03 to stand at more than $12 billion (the reference year was 2001-02).2 The price of communications services increased by 1.1% over the period, more slowly than the general rate of inflation (with the price of telecommunication actually falling).3

Computer ownership and Internet access, households

Graph - Computer ownership and Internet access, households

Some differences within Australia

In 2002, access to the Internet at home differed according to household characteristics like income, location and family structure. Households with incomes over $50,000 were more than twice as likely to have access to the Internet at home than those with incomes under $50,000 (66% compared to 29%). Households with children under 15 years old were more likely to have access than others (59% compared to 40%). Metropolitan households were more likely than those outside the cities to have access to the Internet at home (50% compared to 39%).1

Among the states and territories, the Australian Capital Territory had the highest proportion of households connected (60%) in 2002, possibly because of the ACT's relatively high average incomes and younger age profile. Tasmania had the smallest proportion connected, at 35%.1

Businesses use of the Internet is discussed in the Productivity commentary.

Telephones remain one of the major communication tools. International Telecommunications Union data show that in 1993 there were about 52 fixed telephone lines or mobile phones for every one-hundred Australians. By 2002, the figure stood at 118.4 Much of this growth was driven by the rise in popularity of mobile phones. In 1998, ABS figures show that more than 40% of households had a mobile phone, and by 2002 almost three-quarters of households had a mobile phone.5

The digital divide
The term 'digital divide' is used to describe unequal access to information and communications technology among some parts of the community. Although Internet use has increased rapidly since 1998, data show that people on low incomes, without tertiary education, living outside metropolitan areas or aged over 55, are less likely to use the Internet.1 And as the Internet becomes more widespread, groups without access may not have the full opportunities to participate in social, economic and political life. Barriers to Internet access are discussed in the Factors influencing change section.

Adults using the Internet

One can also consider the characteristics of the individuals - rather than the households - that use the Internet. In 2002, over half of the adults in Australia accessed the Internet at home or elsewhere. More than 40% of all adults accessed the Internet at home, while 30% used it at work. Over 30% of adults accessed the Internet at other sites, such as the home of a friend or relative, a tertiary institution or a library.1

The likelihood that an adult was an Internet user fell as age increased. Some 84% of adults aged 18-24 years were Internet users, but only 26% of adults aged 55 years or over used the Internet. Adult men were slightly more likely than women to have been Internet users (61% to 56%). Those in employment were also much more likely to have used the Internet than other adults. Almost three-quarters ( 73%) of employed adults used the Internet in 2002, compared to one-third of other adults.1

The proportion of adults using the Internet in Australia is high by world standards, and in 2000 Australia was ranked joint fifth by an OECD study of selected countries (behind several Scandinavian countries and Canada, and alongside the United States of America).6 Comparing information from different countries can be problematic, and figures should be treated with caution.

Children using the Internet
Information is not available on changes over time in the number of children accessing the Internet, but figures are available for the twelve months to April 2000. Almost half (47%) of children aged 5-14 years accessed the Internet in this period, with just over one quarter of all children accessing from home and almost one third using the Internet at school. There was no difference in the proportions of children accessing the Internet in regional and metropolitan areas (both 47%).7

Factors influencing change

Many factors affect whether people decide to connect to the Internet at home. Cost and interest in the Internet are two, as is ownership of a computer (most of the people who access the Internet from home use a personal computer).

Although the Internet can be accessed without using a home computer (such as through a mobile phone or a set-top box), 99% of households accessing the Internet used only a computer to access it in November 2000.

In 2002, almost half of the 2.9 million households without a computer reported either that they had no need for a computer or a lack of interest in computers. A little more than one-quarter reported high costs as the main reason for being without a home computer.1

Of the 4.1 million households without access to the Internet in 2002, 41% reported a lack of interest in the Internet or no use for the Internet as the main reasons they didn't have home access. A further 26% reported the costs for home Internet access were too high. But households with high income were more likely to report having access elsewhere, rather than cost, as a reason for not having the Internet at home.1

Although the ABS has little information about the changing cost of Internet access, the price of home computers has fallen steadily in recent times, while the capability of those computers has improved dramatically.8

Interest in the Internet is likely to rise as the breadth of online services increases and people become more accustomed to using them. For example, the proportion of adults using the Internet for to pay bills or transfer funds was only 3% in 1999. This proportion has continually increased and was 23% in 2002. Internet shopping is becoming more common too. In 2002, 26% of Australian Internet users were Internet shoppers compared to only 12% in 1999. Also in 2002, 21% of adult Australians accessed government services via the Internet, with about half of this proportion reporting the main reason was to pay bills. Accessing tax information, submitting tax returns and accessing employment/unemployment information were also popular reasons.1 Some 57% of businesses with Internet access also used 'e-government' in 2001-02, with many seeking information on government services.9

Other factors believed to be a barrier to Internet use include lack of skills and training and concerns over security. The use of the Internet in the workplace is thought to stimulate people to become connected at home, while children who use the Internet at school or a friend's house are likely to provide a push to their own households to become connected.

Links to other dimensions of progress

The Internet can be used for education; it is a powerful research tool and many education institutions are developing distance learning courses over the Internet. But education also plays a part in driving change: people's knowledge of and ability to use the Internet help determine whether they choose to connect at home.

The Internet can be used for cultural or recreational pursuits, and can save time (through activities such as Internet banking) which can be spent on other things. The growth of Internet use might also act as a catalyst for greater social cohesion and improved governance: it can provide better links across a local community while also offering access to national and international resources.

The flow of knowledge and information over the Internet can stimulate innovation. It also allows consumers a way of comparing the prices of, and even purchasing, goods and services from outside their local area, or outside Australia. This might make Australian industry more competitive, both domestically and internationally.

See also the commentaries Productivity; Education and training; Family, community and social cohesion; Democracy, governance and citizenship.

End notes
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Household Use of Information Technology 2001-02, cat. no. 8146.0, ABS, Canberra.

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Australian System of National Accounts 2002-03, cat. no. 5204.0, ABS, Canberra.

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Consumer Price Index, cat. no. 6401.0, ABS, Canberra.

4. International Telecommunications Union 2003, World Communication Development Report 2003: Access Indicators for the Information Society, ITU, Geneva.

5. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Measures of a knowledge-based economy and society, Australia, cat. no. 8146.0, ABS, Canberra.

6. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001, OECD Science Technology and Industry Scorecard 2001 - Towards a knowledge-based economy, OECD, Paris.

7. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, cat. no. 4901.0, ABS, Canberra.

8. Landefeld, S and Grimm, B.T. 2000, 'A note on the Impact of Hedonics and Computers on Real GDP', Survey of Current Business, vol. 80, no.12, pp. 17-22.

9. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Business Use of Information Technology 2001-02, cat. no. 8129.0, ABS, Canberra.

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