Free Internet and community transformation
Unitec academic Jocelyn Williams investigated whether free Internet can really make a difference to low income communities.
Does the Internet empower lower income communities or perpetuate the status quo? Can universal Internet access resolve education, employment and other social gaps? A study by Jocelyn Williams from Unitec's Department of Communication - with the help of Frank Sligo and Catherine Wallace from Massey University - looked at whether free Internet can really make a difference to low income communities.
The researchers looked at community outcomes in the 'Computers in Homes' programme, a New Zealand scheme in which free computers and Internet access are given to selected low income, non-Internet households for a very small joining fee.
To find out how participants benefit from the programme, the researchers interviewed 26 parents or caregivers of young children who were selected to take part in the programme.
The results of the study suggest that the programme has value in providing the most basic ICT access, and it is being used by school communities to broaden people's worldviews.
However, connectivity in the group showed decline after one year of Internet connection, and five different types of Internet users became apparent. These include people who maintain or increase their levels of Internet use, and those who decrease their use or become disconnected
While there are potential applications of this typology, the researchers believe that claims for community transformation need to be more rigorously assessed. In particular, the dimensions of such transformation must be more precisely articulated by its proponents. A vision of what a community could be - were it to be enhanced by ICT - would provide a mechanism for moving communities toward positive change.
Last edited: 14 January 2011