Digital Exclusion and New Zealand’s Tech Future

This month the Citizens Advice Bureau and a cross-section of the New Zealand community from around New Zealand arrived at the steps of Parliament to deliver a Petition calling on the Government to sort out digital exclusion.  

Frankly, this government has been completely off the curb when it comes to real and high-quality delivery of digital solutions and support for digitally excluded New Zealanders. Over the summer, with barely any direct consultation (although plenty of longwinded documents were uploaded on their website which few outside the beltway have read) the government withdrew support for the telecommunications devices of deaf and hard of hearing New Zealanders. This left many vulnerable and stranded with new technologies mostly managed via apps they could not understand

They announced the decision right as Parliament broke for the year and by the time it could be examined in Parliament it was too late to delay the changes going ahead. I still have a letter from December sitting before the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee asking for a briefing that has yet to be heard or even voted upon. 

What a farce.

We also have seen over this year the government refusing to step in and help out New Zealanders being stranded from using cheques as a payment system despite rural connectivity still being a dog in many parts of provincial New Zealand. This problem is compounded by the loss of small-town banks and ATMs, and a lack of practical digital economy education and support for those who cannot engage with more modern processes due to age, inability to learn or location.

National pushed hard to ensure those New Zealanders affected could still use a chequing system for government banking but once again the government failed to deliver. Our digital banking laws are out of date and are incredibly complicating simple actions such as opening a new bank account or changing a signature in light of increased complexity due to global banking and anti-money laundering procedures.

No longer being able to write cheques is stranding rural and older New Zealanders.

The more we move digital and don’t ensure practical support is given for others to join that digital future, the more we will see people left behind. 

On top of this, the withdrawal of old copper phone lines and dial-up connections is causing stress to some who feel that they are losing their literal lifelines on older telecommunications technology in favour of congested fixed wireless networks and new-fangled equipment they are not being given the tools to understand.

The withdrawal of old phone lines and dial-up connections is causing stress to some who feel that they are losing their literal lifelines on older telecommunications technology.

Fortunately, in this case, thanks to hard advocacy and work started by the National-led government we achieved a regulatory code with the Commerce Commission that will ensure no older copper lines are withdrawn until appropriate connectivity exists.

In summary from the Commission, it can only be withdrawn “..where households can access the same services over the fibre network. In areas where fibre is not currently available Chorus must continue to supply copper services.” The withdrawal process has begun though many are still anxious and feeling excluded so I am maintaining a vigilant watch for those affected New Zealanders. 

With each passing week, more government consultation moves away from in-person meetings or forums and onto email and web link-only processes, removing large swathes of taxpayers and the voting public from being able to participate in our democracy.

Democracy has to be inclusive and when Government fails to allow people the ability to know what plans they are making and what changes could affect them then we have a substantial divide that exists for non-tech savvy New Zealanders and those countless thousands who will never be able to adjust to the rapid year-on-year changes the digital revolution is making worldwide.

National MPs have all lived with different digital exclusion experiences and we want this to change for all. We are committed to ending the digital divide for all New Zealanders and this can only be done through better digital literacy engagement, better connectivity solutions, better regulatory innovations for our digital economy and of course, ensuring everyone from our most dynamic business leaders to the most vulnerable in our communities can be a part of our changing digital nation without being left behind as the technology changes.

The Petition is now before Parliament. Let’s hope the government listens and makes changes for the future of digitally excluded New Zealanders.


Note: This column originally ran on the BFD in July 2021