The ACMA

Research snapshots

28 April, 2016
08:30 AM

Research snapshots

RSS Feed

Blog

Regional Australians online

By Editor

Surfer enters the water at a beach

Being online is integral to the everyday lives of many Australians. While those of us living in major capital cities have greater levels of connectivity than those in less populated areas, there is evidence that levels of connectivity in regional areas are improving. This is due, in part, to significant private sector and government investment in telecommunications infrastructure development, evidenced by the National Broadband Network (nbn) rollout, the Mobile Black Spot Programme and the broadening availability of a wide range of mobile telecommunications services.1

Understanding the levels of online engagement by Australians living in different regions is the first step in exploring how effectively Australians are able to participate in all forms of digital communications and transactions—a theme that will be explored further in future ACMA research.

So, how does the rest of Australia compare to the major capital cities, how have things changed, and how does where you live in Australia influence your online activities and your access to digital content?

This research snapshot provides an update to the Regional Australia in the digital economy snapshot, released by the ACMA in August 2014. In this snapshot, areas of Australia are categorised into one of four types of regions, based on the population of the area. Definitions of region types used in the snapshot are outlined in the research methodology. This snapshot shows how Australians across the country have changed their patterns of online engagement in the four years to June 2015, by examining how they engage online, their use of mobile devices, and the digital services and activities that attract them online.

This research is undertaken as part of the ACMA’s responsibilities under the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 to report on matters affecting consumers or proposed consumers of telecommunications carriage services (paragraphs 8(1)(c) and (d) of the ACMA Act). Unless stated otherwise, the data used in this snapshot is sourced from Roy Morgan Research.2

What has changed for regional Australians online?

Over the four years to June 2015, the proportion of Australians living in non-urban areas with a home broadband connection has increased more than for residents in any other geographic area of Australia (a 19 percentage point increase). Residents in non-urban areas now report similar levels of home broadband connection to those living in urban and major urban areas. As at June 2015, 80 per cent of Australians living in non-urban areas reported a broadband connection at home, compared with only 61 per cent four years ago.

Smartphone usage is also on the rise, with the proportion of Australians owning a smartphone as their main mobile phone increasing across all regions, although major capital cities recorded the highest level of smartphone ownership (76 per cent). In non-urban areas, the proportion of Australians with smartphones as their main mobile tripled over this period—from 19 to 60 per cent. While this is a substantial increase, Australians living in non-urban areas continue to remain below the national average of 72 per cent.

The proportion of Australians who had never accessed the internet decreased over the four years to June 2015. Despite this trend towards greater online access, regional variations were evident. Approximately 10 per cent of Australians in urban and non-urban areas reported that they had never accessed the internet, which remains significantly higher than for capital city residents where only four percent reported never having accessed the internet.

Online engagement—how do different regions of Australia stack up?

While most Australians continue to engage online and participate in the digital economy, there are regional disparities in their levels of participation. Internet users in major urban areas display equivalent levels of online participation to Australians living in major capital cities. In terms of internet connectivity and frequency of internet use, users in major urban areas are only slightly behind their counterparts in the major capital cities—82 per cent living in major urban areas have a home broadband connection and 71 per cent have a smartphone as their main mobile, compared with 89 and 76 per cent respectively in major capital cities.

While the proportion of people with a home broadband connection in non-urban areas has grown significantly—now reaching 80 per cent—these internet users are still trailing those in major capital cities in terms of frequency and intensity of online participation.

There has been significant growth in smartphone usage and accessing the internet on mobiles over the four years to June 2015. However, Australians living in major capital cities have greater levels of internet connectivity and use the internet more frequently for a greater range of online activities than those located in less densely populated regions. These regional differences are likely to be explained in part by the demographic profile of Australians living in non-urban areas.

Internet connectivity

In the four years to June 2015, the proportion of the population with a home broadband connection increased by:

  • 18 percentage points in major capital cities to 89 per cent
  • 13 percentage points in major urban areas to 82 per cent
  • 15 percentage points in urban areas to 79 per cent
  • 19 percentage points in non-urban areas to 80 per cent.

Figure 1 shows that at June 2015, the proportion of the population with a home broadband connection in non-urban areas (80 per cent) was nine percentage points lower than those living in major capital cities (89 per cent).

Figure 1: Australian adults with a broadband connection at home (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 1: Australian adults with a broadband connection at home (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Figure 2: Australian adults who use the internet via mobile phone (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 2: Australian adults who use the internet via mobile phone (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over.
Note: Have done one or more online activities using their mobile phones in the last four weeks.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

While sixty per cent of Australians living in major capital cities reported using their mobile phones to go online in the last year, only 37 per cent of their non-urban counterparts did so. Figure 2 demonstrates that the proportion of the non-urban population doing this has more than doubled since June 2011 (16 per cent). However, the increase observed in non-urban areas (from 16 per cent in 2011 to 37 per cent in 2015) is still less that the national average increase (from 21 per cent to 55 per cent) over the same time frame.

Figure 3: Australian adults who have mobile broadband (%)

refer to csv

Figure 3: Australian adults who have mobile broadband (%) (.csv file)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over.
Note: The term mobile broadband refers to wireless internet access through a USB modem, portable Wi-Fi modem, wireless modem, internet key, or SIM card in tablet or laptop.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Figure 3 illustrates the increase in the proportion of Australians using mobile broadband over the four-year period to June 2015. While the percentage of adults with mobile broadband in non-urban areas has remained slightly above the national average four years ago, it is on par with the proportions observed nationally and for other urban areas.

Figure 4: Australian adults who have a smartphone as their main mobile phone (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 4: Australian adults who have a smartphone as their main mobile phone (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Non-users of the internet

Approximately 10 per cent of Australians in urban and non-urban areas reported that they had never accessed the internet, which remains significantly higher than for capital city residents where only four percent reported never having accessed the internet.

Research shows that factors such as age, income and living environment are significant predictors of non-users of the internet3. Data from the 2014–15 Roy Morgan Single Source survey indicates that non-urban areas have:

  • a higher representation of older Australians (56 per cent aged over 50, compared with 39 per cent in major capital cities)
  • a higher representation of Australians who are not employed (43 per cent in non-urban areas, compared with 38 per cent in major capital cities)
  • a lower level of household income (21 per cent of households (based on survey respondents aged 18 and over) have a yearly income of less than $30,000, compared with 16 per cent in major capital cities).

Figure 5: Australian adults who are not users of the internet (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 5: Australian adults who are not users of the internet (%) (.csv file)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Locations of internet use

Australians living in major capital cities exercise greater choice in where they use the internet, with 74 per cent using the internet in more than one location (Figure 6). In contrast, just over half (55 per cent) of non-urban residents report that they go online in more than one location.  

Figure 6: Locations of internet use—June 2015 (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 6: Locations of internet use—June 2015 (%) (.csv file)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over who reported having accessed the internet in the past three months.
Note: Numbers may not add up due to rounding.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Frequency of use

Three-quarters (74 per cent) of Australians living in major capital cities use the internet three or more times a day, as shown in Figure 7. The latest data for the six months to June 2015 shows that residents who live outside these cities tend to use the internet less frequently, with the proportion of residents who use the internet three or more times a day decreasing from 71 per cent in major urban areas to just over half (54 per cent) for those living in non-urban areas.

Figure 7: Frequency of internet use on average—June 2015 (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 7: Frequency of internet use on average—June 2015 (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over who have undertaken one or more activities online in the past four weeks (six months average to June 2015).
Note: Data available for the period January to June 2015 only. Numbers may not add up due to rounding.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Activities undertaken online

At June 2015, Australians reported undertaking a range of internet activities such as communication (88 per cent), research and information (83 per cent), banking and finance (76 per cent), entertainment (70 per cent), general browsing and surfing (67 per cent), and buying and selling (61 per cent).

To understand the impact of location on online participation, the ACMA was particularly interested in the level of engagement with research and information activities that are considered important for regional Australia. Based on the Government’s Regional Telecommunications Review 20154, these include online education, access to government services, health and medical information and business-related research.

Figure 8: Internet activities undertaken online—June 2015 (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 8: Internet activities undertaken online—June 2015 (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over who have undertaken one or more activities online in the past four weeks.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

As Figure 9 shows, a similar proportion of Australians access government services online, regardless of where they live. In contrast, there is a noticeable difference in the extent to which non-urban Australians searched for jobs and employment online (14 per cent), compared with the national average (21 per cent). The use of the internet to access online education or business-related research is also lower in non-urban areas (seven and nine per cent respectively, compared with the national average of 12 per cent).

These differences may be explained by the overall higher level of economic activity in major capital cities and major urban areas, which account for a higher proportion of employed Australians, students and business activities than urban and non-urban areas. ACMA data5 confirms that internet use for the purposes of working or studying from home is higher in the major capital cities (63 per cent). This figure drops to just over half (52 per cent) for the rest of Australia.

Figure 9: Specific activities undertaken online—June 2015 (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 9: Specific activities undertaken online—June 2015 (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over who have undertaken one or more activities online in the past four weeks.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Another reason for such differences in the range of activities undertaken could reflect the use of data-capped plans. ACMA data6 indicates that Australians living in major capital cities are more likely to have unlimited data caps for internet at home (19 per cent in comparison with 10 per cent for the rest of Australia). In contrast, those living outside major capital cities are more likely to have the lowest data-cap allowances, with 14 per cent having less than 6 GB and 10 per cent having 6–30 GB (compared with six per cent and seven per cent respectively for those in major capital cities). Data caps may also affect the capacity of Australians outside major capital cities to access digital content.

Data for the 12 months to June 2015 showed that Australians living in the major capital cities (59 per cent) were more likely to access digital content online than those living in other regions (Figure 10). Non-urban residents reported the lowest level of online access to digital content (38 per cent). There are more differences for the level of access to online video content than for audio content. This may be explained by differences in data allowances as mentioned above, as well as the demographic profile for non-urban areas, which has a higher representation of older age groups who may have a preference for traditional sources of entertainment and news.

Figure 10 also provides data on reading the newspaper online and accessing news online. Similar to other indicators, accessing news and reading news online are higher in major capital cities than in non-urban areas (respectively 10 and 13 percentage points). This is likely to be explained by a higher use of offline newspaper readership in non-urban areas.

Figure 10: Australian adults who accessed digital content and news online—June 2015 (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 10: Australian adults who accessed digital content and news online—June 2015 (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over who have undertaken one or more activities online in the past four weeks.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Research methodology

Definitions of regions

For the purpose of geographical analysis in this snapshot, the following definitions have been used.

Table 1: Definitions of region type used for this snapshot

Region type

Definition

Major capital cities

Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.
Excludes Hobart and Darwin.

Major urban

Covering towns/cities with populations of 100,000 or more.
Includes Hobart and Darwin.
Excludes Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.

Urban

Towns/cities with populations of 1,000 to 99,999.

Non-urban

Areas with populations less than 1,000.

Figure 11 provides an illustration of the proportion of the population among the four region types at June 2015.

Figure 11: Proportion of the population living in each region (%)

refer to csv file

Figure 11: Proportion of the population living in each region (%) (.csv)

Base: Australians aged 18 and over.
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source.

Sample sizes

Data in this snapshot has been sourced from Roy Morgan Research—data covers changes occurring June 2011 to June 2015. Unless otherwise stated, data is averaged over the 12 months to June for each year.

Estimates in this snapshot are based on sample sizes shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Sample sizes

Regional area

June 2011

June 2015

Total population who did one or more online activities in the last four weeks (June 2015)

National

17,345

15,241

11,422

Major capital cities

10,907

8,039

6,356

Major urban

1,521

1,403

1,037

Urban

3,657

4,284

2,964

Non-urban

1,260

1,515

1,065

Base: Australians aged 18 and over. Unweighted counts.
Source: Roy Morgan Research Ltd.

researchacma

This snapshot is part of the ACMA’s research program, researchacma, which has five broad areas of interest:

  • market developments
  • media content and culture
  • social and economic participation
  • citizen and consumer safeguards
  • regulatory best practice and development.

Each snapshot covers a single issue. Access previous researchacma snapshots.

Further information

This snapshot and all the ACMA’s research publications are on the ACMA website at www.acma.gov.au/researchacma.
Subscribe to researchacma alerts for the latest media and communications figures, trends and analysis.

Comments and enquiries about research snapshots should be sent to research.analysis@acma.gov.au.

Endnotes

1 Australian Government (2016), Australian Government response to the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee report: Regional Telecommunications Review 2015, February 2016, Page 1. www.communications.gov.au/sites/g/files/net301/f/response-regional-telecommunications-independent-review-committee-report.pdf.

2 Roy Morgan Single Source.

3 Dane, S K., Mason, C. M., and O’Brien-McInally, B.A. (2013). Household internet use in Australia: A study of regional communities. CSIRO report: EP1310907.

4 Australian Government, Regional Telecommunications Review 2015. Issues Paper, pages 9–11. Accessed in October 2015 at www.rtirc.gov.au/issues-paper/.

5 ACMA-commissioned survey 2015. Data refers to six months to May 2015.

6 ibid.

Add your comments
  • Erin

    27/06/2016 4:24:16 PM

    Great to see research that looks at the whole of Australia
    Reply
Back to top