Māori IT experts critical of digital divide

8:58 pm on 16 July 2015

Income inequality and a lack of information are contributing to a digital divide in New Zealand, Māori IT experts say.

The Government is spending $2 billion on improving broadband internet access throughout New Zealand, but some tāngata whenua have said rolling out cables is not enough.

Tokomaru Bay

Tokomaru Bay near Gisborne - where, according to the latest census data, one in three households said they did not have access to the internet in 2013. Photo: Wikipedia / TKY4047

During an internet conference, NetHui, last week in Auckland, experts - including members of Māori internet working group Ngā Pū Waea - said making broadband infrastructure available was just the start.

Hinurewa Te Hau

Hinurewa Te Hau Photo: SUPPLIED

Ngā Pū Waea board member Hinurewa Te Hau said people also had to be able to afford to connect.

"We have farmers, we have under-served communities, we have lower socio-economic families who may have access to some form of data - through the use of mobile phones - but certainly internet connections may still be costing them too much."

Ms Te Hau said an affordability study carried out on behalf of Ngā Pū Waea last year showed some households were willing to pool resources to help their local marae connect - if they were offered the right package deal.

"They would be prepared to bundle all their connections together, and the products and services that are offered around their connections, to support the local marae.

"The marae is the same - similar - to a school. It's a place of engagement, it's a place where we gather, it's a place for learning and local knowledge."

Ivan Lomax lives in Tokomaru Bay near Gisborne - where, in 2013, about one in three households said they did not have access to the internet.

He said the first stage of the Government's rural broadband initiative did a good job of connecting schools, but children were still missing out.

"We now need to break the barriers of the school gates and get it out to the community. The kids who don't have the internet, and they're doing schoolwork, will now be able to access their schoolwork at home.

"That's what the Government needs to do now - make it low-cost, affordable for everybody."

He said the change was obvious once a household had access to the internet.

"People have now got internet, they've decided to do some extra education - gone on to be local schoolteachers or basically anything. It's just opened up their lives, really."

Education also needed

Back at the internet hui in Auckland, independent IT expert Karaitiana Taiuru said some whānau may need a better understanding of their options.

"By doing simple price comparisons, by saying: 'Well, you have digital TV and you have a landline and you have extra tutoring, or you have a need to do something away from your home... A broadband internet connection can cover all those things, and you can do it from your home.'"

Mr Taiuru said there were some cultural aspects to weigh up, such as the importance of kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (face-to-face) communication.

But, he said, there were plenty of opportunities ahead.

"Tangi being put on the internet and through the TV. We're seeing Māori having meetings on the internet. Māori trustee are using email to communicate with trustees," he said.

"We're definitely shifting towards adapting our culture to the internet."

Submissions on the second stage of the Government's broadband rollout closed in early July.

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