Cost a barrier to Net access

WHILE more than one third of WA households are now online, the initial cost of connecting to the Internet is still prohibitive for low-income families.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released last week show 34 per cent of WA homes were online last year. WA, along with Victoria, has the third highest online figure behind the ACT (48 per cent) and Northern Territory (36 per cent).

Internet connections have risen 9 per cent from 1999 and almost doubled from the same time in 1998.

WA Internet Association spokesman Kim Heitman said the figures pointed to a steady increase in WA homes with online access, but suggested it had slowed compared with fast growing years in 1995, ’96 and ’97.

“We’ve already got half the people connected through work or domestic computers,” he said.

But Mr Heitman believed the cost of personal computers and monthly access fees presented a barrier to many low-income households wanting to connect.

“The cost of obtaining a computer is not insignificant and even the monthly fees can vary from $15 going up to about $70, and that is a steady expense for a low income household,” Mr Heitman said.”

“We may see in the next few years some cheaper devices to connect to the Internet with, rather than the personal computer.”

He said using datacasting technology, where a television set could connect to the Internet via a set-top box, was one option.

“If we can get the cost of connecting to the net down from $1500 to about $500, then there will be a lot of households that will take it up,” Mr Heitman said.

WA’s isolation was one explanation for the large proportion of WA homes online compared with other states.

“WA has always had to work fairly hard to keep up with the rest of the world,” Mr Heitman said.

“As a result, it’s quite natural for us to be seeking a connected network like the Internet in order to stay in touch.

“Isolation in this case has led to a greater desire to be a part of the global network.”

The ABS survey also showed purchases over the Internet were still unpopular with most adult users. Only 8 per cent of Western Australians had ordered goods or services online, up 3 per cent from 1999 figures. WA’s reluctance is in line with other states and territories, except the ACT, which showed 16 per cent of adults had bought goods online.

Most respondents said they had no need, or had not bothered to try, to buy online. About half of the respondents said they had concerns giving out their credit card details online.

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