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'Digital Divide' Threatens Social Cohesion

11 April 2002

Maharey: 'Digital Divide' Threatens Social Cohesion And Economic Growth

Efforts to create a more innovative New Zealand could isolate pockets of our society unless proper effort is put into ensuring all New Zealanders can learn about and access new technology, Community and Voluntary Sector Minister Steve Maharey said today.

Steve Maharey is in Auckland to address the second Flaxroots technology conference. The conference, which has been organised by the Department of Internal Affairs, brings together people from iwi, hapu, whanau and community organisations around the country to set a community agenda for future ICT developments.

Speaking to the conference Steve Maharey said for all of its potential benefits, there is a danger that the drive towards a knowledge economy could isolate parts of New Zealand society, and lead to less, not more, social cohesion with a growing divide between the digital “haves’ and the digital have “nots’.

“To avoid this happening we need to ensure that all New Zealanders - regardless of wealth or social status - have the opportunity to access and learn about new technology.

“Government efforts to close this “digital divide’ are being coordinated by the development of our digital opportunity strategy. Significant progress on this strategy has already occurred:

- in partnership with industry, we are contributing $10 million to pilot schemes to give more young New Zealanders - especially in less advantaged communities - the chance to develop skills in ICT;

- we are piloting broadband telecommunications access in, for example, the Far North and Southland. Information Technology Minister Paul Swain has set a target of providing broadband access at the community level by next year;

- we are funding community based ICT projects through the Department of Internal Affairs and the Community Employment Group; and hosting and maintaining the Community Net Website; and,

- officials have been charged with further exploring digital opportunities with the aim of developing a framework for government and the community to jointly address digital divide challenges.

“These are concrete initiatives that will improve access to ICT and assist communities to participate in the knowledge economy,” Steve Maharey said.

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