Paul Greville of the Masterton District Library wants to bridge the digital divide. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

 

Too good to be true?

 

EMILY IRELAND

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

But that’s not the case with an offer of heavily discounted internet for Wairarapa families battling the digital divide.

Masterton District Library digital services manager Paul Greville is conducting ‘Spark Jump’ courses at the library, a free programme which sets people up with a 4G router pre-loaded with 30GB of data to use.

And the best part?

Once that data is used, it’s only $10 to top it up with another 30GB – a price so cheap, it’s not even comparable to other offers available for internet.

Mr Greville said based on the latest Census statistics (2013), 76.8 per cent of New Zealand had internet access in their homes.

In Masterton it was only 65.6 per cent, and on the East Side, it was only 52.4 per cent.

Carterton, Greytown, and Martinborough punched above their weight, but still failed to reach the national average at a respective 71.2 per cent, 72.5 per cent, and 70.3 per cent.

Featherston sat at only 62.5 per cent uptake.

“Our main problem is that people know about this programme, but they don’t believe it,” Mr Greville said.

“We get the ‘too good to be true’ crowd – people turning up to take the course with money in their pocket expecting someone to pivot on them with unexpected costs, but that is not the case.”

The Spark Jump programme was designed for families in low-income communities with school-age children who don’t have a broadband connection at home.

“In a community that is suffering for digital inclusion as much as we are, everyone should be on board with this,” Mr Greville said.

“People are being left behind and that is a real cause for concern, because if we are going to have a functioning society, we can’t cut out anyone who is not in the city, over a certain age, or anyone whose parents were too poor to get a broadband connection at a particular, essential five-year window.

“Those are the people that are being left behind.”

Mr Greville said the digital divide was particularly concerning for school-aged children in the region.

“Increasingly, we’re finding that parents are having to bring their kids into the library to do the basic homework,” he said.

“My son for instance has two websites where he does maths problems and games.

“He has accounts for those at school, does them at school, and is then encouraged to do it at home as homework… All of this is predicated on having some sort of connection to the internet, many families of which do not.”

Mr Greville said as children got older and advanced through the school system, their reliance on a digital connection would become “more and more prevalent, to the point where they will not be able to do modules in their vital School C and NCEA without having access to the internet”.

“The library is quite happy to provide as much of that [access] as they can, but it is not convenient to a family to have to send their children to the library whenever they need to use the internet.”

The library was one of the big catch nets for the digital divide on a wider scale too, Mr Greville said.

“Consequently, we see people in tears at the E-Centre, trying to fill in their tax return, or contact government departments, which have abandoned every means of contact, save for online, over the last few years.

“It’s an enormously stressful process that ultimately ends with people saying, stuff it, I won’t turn in my tax return, or I won’t do this or that.

“It’s demoralising for everyone, and is a limitation of choice in a society that prides itself on providing equality of choice.”

Mr Greville hoped that an increased uptake of the Spark Jump programme in Wairarapa would be a catalyst for change in the online sphere.

“It’s a great public good, and I would love to give away more of them [4G routers].”

The course is two hours long and shows people how to activate the 4G router, recharge it with a voucher and manage their account online.

The router connects to the local cell towers, so doesn’t need a phone port/connection.

The router also has 30GB of data preloaded and can be taken away after the course.

Once that data has been used up, another 30GB can be purchased for $10 at any store carrying Skinny phone top ups, or with a debit card online.

There is no contract, Mr Greville said – “if you can’t afford any data this month, you can wait until money is available”.

To enquire about the Spark Jump programme, contact the Masterton District Library on 06 370 6253, or ask in person at the front desk.

Spark Jump is also partnered with Wairarapa REAP.