One of the country’s leading community housing providers, Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust (ŌCHT), and Christchurch fibre company, Enable, aim to eliminate digital inequity for ŌCHT housing tenants living in Christchurch through a new 10-year partnership.
Both organisations understand that community housing tenants can experience high levels of digital exclusion. More than 60 percent of ŌCHT tenants are not connected to the internet at home – meaning they do not have the means or skills to access and benefit from the digital world. This compares to an estimated 10 percent of the whole community.
“Enable and ŌCHT share a belief that the opportunity to access the internet and participate in the digital world is really essential in this day and age,” says Enable CEO, Steve Fuller. “The reality is that a significant number of people in our community are disadvantaged by this and we want to address the barriers that stand in the way for ŌCHT tenants; Enable and the Trust can do this together.”
ŌCHT CEO, Cate Kearney adds, “We know that the world has become so reliant on being digitally connected, whether it’s to use services from banking to education; finding a job; the ways families, friends and community groups connect; and even how we access entertainment. If our tenants cannot connect and participate, they will become increasingly isolated and unable to fully participate in society.”
Ms Kearney says the Covid-19 lockdowns really underscored how digital inequity can affect people when those not “online” were left very isolated.
Enable and ŌCHT have been working together for several months on understanding the needs of the Trust’s tenants and specifically what stands in the way of them accessing the digital world.
The Government, through its Digital Inclusion Blueprint, articulates the barriers people face under four headings – access (to connectivity and devices), skills, motivation, and trust.
“As we’ve worked to understand the needs of our community it has become clear that we need to address all four barriers,” says Ms Kearney. “This problem cannot be solved by simply turning on an internet service and expecting people to use it.”
“Providing internet connectivity and digital support services to our tenants is an exciting opportunity that aligns to our goal of providing homes that foster community participation and wellbeing.”
Enable is currently working to gain the appropriate regulatory approvals to deliver a free maximum speed (close to 1Gbps) wholesale internet service to ŌCHT. ŌCHT is working to finalise funding to support the education and support components of the initiative. The partners hope to be able to progress the plan in the next few weeks.
Enable and ŌCHT are still working to identify more partners – particularly those who may be able to help to supply devices to some tenants – with positive meetings already underway.
Enable’s fibre network is already available to all ŌCHT properties in Christchurch and is being installed into many of these properties in preparation for a fibre-only fixed infrastructure future – where broadband reliability and performance levels only possible over fibre will be critical. The investment we have made in our network is being underutilised by this community due to the digital equity barriers many tenants face,” says Mr Fuller. “Through this partnership, and the provision of our free internet service, we will ensure our investment will benefit our community now with tangible community value created.”
“We have estimated the initiative will generate around $20m in measurable economic benefits to the Christchurch community over a five-year period. That’s very significant.”
Ms Kearney adds there are several social benefits to be realised through this initiative that are harder to define in terms of dollar value – from civic participation to improved community wellbeing.