Access to high speed, affordable digital communications is a fundamental part of daily life and a lifeline for many grappling with the impact of COVID.
The lack of connectivity across G21 continues to disadvantage businesses, emergency and essential service providers, the elderly, migrant communities and school and tertiary students who do not have access to a reliable network. Existing connections are stretched beyond their limits by a growing population. Peak holiday season adds to intense demand.
The region’s 40,000 primary and secondary students do not have consistent access to online learning which has become essential during COVID lockdowns. The region cannot afford to fall further behind. At present, one-in-three G21 students do not complete Year 12, compared to one-in-five in Melbourne.
Commonwealth and Victorian Governments recognise the gravity of the issue and G21 is grateful that both have founded funding programs to help address gaps, especially in communities such as Birregurra, Colac and Lara. Deakin University, AARNet and City of Greater Geelong have co-invested to extend fibre to parts of the Bellarine.
However, COVID has revealed the full extent of the digital divide and it is clear that deeper investment and coordination is needed to bring the whole region up to speed with modern metropolitan standards.
Digital Skills Gap
COVID has revealed a digital literacy and skills gap across the region. A significant number of businesses have struggled to grasp e-commerce opportunities. G21 municipalities report that older community members, young people and those experiencing disadvantage are missing out on information connecting them to jobs, services, education & the community.
Targeted business and community programs are required to provide basic training and development to bridge the divide and foster digital inclusion in G21.
What G21 needs
- Greater co-investment and coordination needed from Commonwealth and Victorian Governments to deliver high bandwidth fibre and better mobile connection to G21; partnership with telcos
- Rapidly growing communities such as Armstrong Creek and Bannockburn should be prioritised, with funding from the Connecting Victoria program and the Commonwealth’s Regional Connectivity Program
- $250,000 to deliver a digital skills program for G21 business owners and staff, including digital assessments, training and skills development to support business recovery.
- $250,000 for G21 libraries to develop and deliver:
– a regional online training program for vulnerable communities.
– a lending program to loan 4g enabled iPads to vulnerable communities (pilot of 30 iPads).
– an outreach-focused resource to drive program development and partner liaison.
A commitment to embed GROW training, employment and procurement principles in all government projects within the region.