RealTime IT News

Australian Digital Divide Dissolves

Research released by Internet analyst Red Sheriff reveals the information gap between regional and metropolitan areas is closing. However, a report by Monash University, published late last year, says regional areas are missing out on IT jobs.

The uptake of the Internet in regional areas increased considerably in the last year, the Red Sherrif report says. The analyst praises Federal Governments initiatives, such as the $464 million "Networking the Nation program launched in 1997, for encouraging growth.

Red Sheriff point to significant gains for companies operating in regional areas.

"With almost seven million Australians living outside the capital cities, there is now a significant opportunity for Australian businesses, education services and the government to reach a new audience and capitalise on the vast array of new opportunities and benefits delivered by this medium."

"There has been very little information available about the online attitudes, behaviours and sophistication of rural and regional Australians to guide the development of targeted products and services, marketing strategies, and communication campaigns," says Virginia Mee, Research Director for Red Sheriff.

Communications is the primary motivator for Internet use in regional Australia with e-mail, chat groups, telephony and instant messaging used on a regular basis. However, online purchasing was only slightly less common for rural users with 24 per cent of users purchasing online compared to 27 per cent of metropolitan users.

Despite the uptake of Internet adoption in regional areas, a report by Monash University says regional areas have lost out to New South Wales and Victoria when it comes to IT work.

In 1996, 49.9 per cent of those employed in business service jobs, defined by the researchers as "new economy" jobs that include computing, IT, scientific research and marketing, legal and consulting work, lived in New South Wales or Victoria.

By May last year, the figure was 53.2 per cent, despite the policies of governments to give country areas infrastructure such as faster Internet connections and advanced telecommunications networks.

The report by Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research, Regional Australia and the New Economy, says attempts to provide infrastructure in regional areas has failed to increase employment in those areas.

"Commonwealth and State policy makers appear to assume that improved communications will proivde the basis for a more optimistic outlook for regional centres. Governments have provided substantial financial assistance to ensure that high quality telecommunication links are available relatively cheaply to non-metropolitan centres." As one example, the Federal Governments BITs program (Building on IT strengths), a $76m dollar project will see the development of 10 information technology and communications (IT&C) centres nation-wide, using a range of incubator models. The plan has a particular focus on regional areas and incubators have been established in Darwin, Adelaide, and Tasmania, where $40m will be used to turn the state into an "Intelligent Island." The report argues the nature of telecommunications, as distinct from other industries where roads and transport are imperative, allows regional areas to exist on equal footing as their metropolitan counterparts. But that's not the case. The report said that firms who exploit the most important resources of the new economy, knowledge and networks, favour metropolitan locations. "Recent Australian experience confirms the work of theorists who argue that firms exploiting knowledge based production systems, often associated with global demand, favour the metropolitan locations. Regional service providers face the major additional problem of attracting the skilled workers they require."