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New research from NCOSS has revealed the stark digital divide facing many Australians now living in isolation as a result of COVID-19.

  • 14% of respondents reported they were unable to pay their mobile bill on time and consequently had to go without internet, text or talk
  • 16% of respondents have a mobile phone without a data allowance and for those with a disability 25% don’t have a data allowance
  • 29% of respondents had to limit their mobile phone use because of financial reasons

The research designed by UTS’s Institute of Public Policy and Governance and NCOSS of 730 people in NSW has identified that large sections of the community cannot access basic telecommunications services.

The survey reveals that many are struggling to pay their telecommunications bills, don’t have access to mobile phone data and must limit their mobile phone use because of financial reasons.

NCOSS CEO Joanna Quilty said the research, conducted last year, reveals the significant telecommunications access issues being experienced and which are now exacerbated by COVID-19.

“This research demonstrates that for many people in the community, access to basic telecommunication services like the internet are out of reach,” Ms Quilty said.

“We can clearly see that there is a digital divide in NSW, and it is those on lower incomes, those living with a disability and those relying on government payments that are being left behind.

“Almost 15% of people in NSW are going without internet, text and voice services because they have been unable to pay their bills. People with high housing costs – spending more than 40% of their income on housing - are more likely to be in this situation.

“A quarter of respondents with a disability have no data allowance on their mobile phones and 27% of people relying on government payments have no data allowance.

“We are increasingly moving to an online environment for government services, for work, for education and for health care, but a large part of the community is being left behind.

“These access issues for basic services are acting as a social and economic hand-break for people in need – it is simply not good enough.”

Ms Quilty said the impact of COVID-19 will only exacerbate the digital divide issues exposed by this research.

“COVID-19 is leading to more people trying to access government services online, people being forced to work from home, and people needing online access for health and education. It is also our primary way of connecting to family, friends and the outside world,” she said.

“But as this research demonstrates, for many people in our community this is simply out of reach and will only lead to greater economic and social dislocation.”

The NCOSS CEO said all levels of government needed to take the issue of telecommunications accessibility more seriously.

“We need to be doing far more to ensure that all Australians have access to basic telecommunications services,” Ms Quilty said.

To access the research, visit:

To find out more about NCOSS, visit:

Media contact: Nick Trainor 0407 078 138

The survey sample of 730 people in NSW included those on incomes up to $82,056.