“The world is in the midst of a genuine technological revolution of historic proportions as fields of endeavour converge to deliver a transformational impact to rival any previous social or industrial shift…” Keith Newman, author of “Connecting the Clouds: the Internet in New Zealand”
I just had to grit my teeth and smile.

Whilst the New Zealand 2013 report to the World Internet Project is an interesting and far reaching study in to the usage patterns of internet access around the world, last week’s news reports on the local study just made me grit my teeth.  The implications of the study are not being taken seriously.

“With New Zealand internet usage reaching saturation…” news reports said.  No way.  We have only scratched the surface of internet use in this country.  Certainly internet access, not usage, is nearing saturation point amongst those who want it.  Just as for mobile phone accounts, we will soon have more broadband accounts than there are people.

“The report shows the ‘digital divide’ exists – particularly for Maori, Pasifika, …”  No way.  It is true that the data shows Maori and Pasifika have higher rates of internet non-use.  But to infer that higher rate of non-use is based on ethnicity, is misleading.

WIP_SliderThe focus of the 2013 report on New Zealand’s use of the internet has changed from ‘how many people use the internet?’ to ‘how do people use the internet?’  In this context, Maori usage patterns are little different from non-Maori patterns.

Why does this concern me?  Because some will now use the report to justify special and favourable treatment, aka subsidies, for Maori internet access.  That means that people who do need support around equitable broadband access, people living in rural areas and the less wealthy, will miss out.

The report identifies a very clear drop off in internet usage patterns as household incomes diminish.

It does conclude that there is a digital divide in New Zealand.  As I have argued for four years now, that digital divide has moved from access to computers and broadband connections, to the quality of that access.  Access to high speed broadband is the new digital divide and this study does not ask the questions to explore that changing dynamic.

So what do the 92% of New Zealanders who have internet access, use it for?

Browsing the web (96%), email access (99%), social networking (80%) and making on-line phone calls (64%) are the unsurprising biggies.

Almost two thirds of us download free apps with just over 60% of men aged 30–44 saying they have looked at sites with sexual content. Māori and Pasifika internet users, are the leaders in music streaming subscriptions like Spotify.

Almost half of our users have logged in to secure areas on Government or Council websites, with just over half paying taxes, fines or licences online in the past year.

When it comes to entertainment , the burgeoning area of broadband use, 70% of internet users at least occasionally watch TV on line and 45% listen to radio over their internet connection.  Half of internet users play games on line and 38% download or stream feature films.

As large as these figures are, they are a long way from saturation point.

So what does this all say about the direction our use of the Internet is taking us?

I do not think we can yet conceive an answer to that question.

New Zealander Keith Newman, author of  “Connecting the Clouds: the Internet in New Zealand” best sums up the impact of the coming changes when he said, “The world is in the midst of a genuine technological revolution of historic proportions as fields of endeavour converge to deliver a transformational impact to rival any previous social or industrial shift…”

Consider that almost three quarters of us feel that the internet is important or very important in our everyday life.  And that four in every five users spend an hour or more online every day.  And that only one in nine people, which includes the non-users, rate their ability to use the internet as being low.

Whatever that direction is, we all need to go in the same direction.  That will not happen unless the rural/urban digital divide is bridged.