The UN has declared internet access a basic human right, but at-home internet remains out of reach for many struggling New Zealand families. In an article in The Spinoff, Madeleine Chapman talks to 20/20 Trust ‘s Stephen Carr to learn how Spark Jump and 20/20 are attempting to bridge the digital divide. Here is a shorter version.
It’s easy to take things for granted when you’ve never lived without them. Food, shelter, clothes, and now the internet. Like smartphones, access to the internet is no longer a novelty. Ability to communicate, learn, and share with the world is now vital in a first world society.
School-aged children with no internet access
But not everybody has access to the web. At the 2013 census, over 60,000 homes with school-aged children had no internet access. And the longer a family goes without access, the higher the chance of alienation and missed opportunities, socially and financially. It’s the ‘digital divide’, the disadvantages faced by low income families without internet.
The Spark Foundation, to help these families, last year launched Spark Jump offering cheap, pre-paid broadband to young families with no internet connection. Partnering with school networks and trusts around New Zealand such as the 20/20 Trust, Spark Jump aims to provide a necessary connection to enhance children’s learning away from the school.
Learning doesn’t just happen in schools
Stephen Carr, executive director of 20/20, knows that learning doesn’t just happen in schools – learning resources at home are just as important. “All schools are funded by government to be able to provide computer technology,” he explains, “but with the evolution of cloud computing and the ability to collaborate in a variety of different ways, that’s something that goes beyond the school computer lab.” Beyond the computer lab and into the home where, for many families, the collaboration stops due to no internet.
At $15 for 30gb of data a month, the Spark Jump programme is the smallest and cheapest on the market, and yet you won’t see billboards or TV ads for it. It’s not available to everyone. Spark works with their community partners to identify families in need who might benefit from the programme. Most matches happen through primary schools in low socio-economic areas. Families are free to approach their school or community to request it, but Carr says that rarely happens. “The types of families that we work with are nervous because they’ve never had the internet before. They don’t know what it is they’re not getting.”
One who sought out the programme is Victoriano, from Belmont. After being made redundant last year, Victoriano was desperate to find a wifi plan they could afford, and Spark Jump’s $15 a month just fits into their budget. “30gb a month is enough for education but we don’t use it for entertainment. Our kids don’t play online, they just use it for what they’re meant to use it for; their studies.”
Stephen Carr agrees. “You’re really going to chew through your data if you’re using it for Netflix. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about collaborating with the schools and identifying the families and making sure that they understand 30gb is quite a lot but also not that much. It’s more than adequate for the educational needs of a child or children at home, but don’t get carried away.”
However, if a family does go through their data quicker than expected, they can top up another $15 for another 30gb. Also, if there’s no room in the budget to pay the bill, there are no penalties because it’s prepay -if you don’t top it up or use it, nothing happens.