Socio-Economic Factors Affecting Home Internet Usage Patterns in Central Queensland

Article excerpt

Introduction

Regional Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure projects funded by the Australian Government determined that a priority needed to be given to rural and regional areas so that they have the same opportunities from the information economy as capital cities and metropolitan areas (National Office for the Internet Economy, 2002). The use of ICT in regional, rural and remote areas has been increasingly promoted in Australia over the past 5 years in order to provide cheaper and more efficient Internet and e-mail access for people living in these areas (Chenoweth & Stehlik, 2002). However, although the Central Queensland (CQ) region, situated on the coast in the north-eastern part of Australia straddling the Tropic of Capricorn covering some 250,000 square kilometres and with a population of approximately 300,000, has had reasonable and growing access to ICT infrastructure over recent years, the home adoption of Internet has been lower than the national average (Taylor, 2002). Demographic and socio economic factors (location, gender, age, education levels, martial status, children at home, dwelling ownership, combined family income and employment status) affecting Internet access from home CQ have been analysed and reported (Taylor, Zhu, Dekkers and Marshall, 2003).

Content and service providers now use the World Wide Web (WWW) to provide modern consumers with a wealth of information, entertainment and commerce opportunities at home (Stafford, 2002). However, in order to better understand why home Internet usage in regional areas remains relatively lower than in capital cities despite reasonable access to ICT infrastructure, consumers' behavior in the home use of the Internet needs to be studied. These behaviors can be categorized as follows: work at home, education, entertainment, information search, email, managing home finance, online purchase and community networking. Following a review of the literature, this research hypothesizes that there are differences in Internet usage patterns between young and old, male and female, people in urban and rural areas, married and unmarried, well-educated and less educated, rich and poor, and employed and unemployed. This paper examines differences in home Internet use across these parameters and the associations between home Internet consumption patterns and demographic and socio-economic factors in CQ. It also provides relevant information for sociologists, psychologists and other professionals who are involved in examining social uses in the adoption of ICT in regional areas generally and in Australia, in particular.

The instrument used to collect the data for the paper was the Central Queensland Social Survey (CQSS), which was jointly conducted by the Centre for Social Science Research (Mummery & Schofield, 2001) and Community Informatics (COIN) Internet Academy, Central Queensland University.

Methodology

Data Collection

The 2001 CQSS was administrated through the CATI (Computer-assisted Telephone Interviewing) system at the Population Research Laboratory within the Centre for Social Science Research at Central Queensland University (CQU) (Mummery & Schofield, 2001). (Funding to undertake this data collection and analysis was provided by Telstra Research Laboratories, Australia.)

The interviews were conducted from 9th to the 25th November, 2001. The CATI program allowed the sample to reflect the socio economic profile of the region by identifying and managing the proportions of socio economic subsets required. In all, 1200 interviews were collected with 400 from Rockhampton (urban area) and the remainder collected from within a 350 km radius of Rockhampton (rural area).

Full details and purposes of interview were reported by Taylor (2002). One of the purposes was to identify Internet usage patterns and their associations with demographic and socio economic parameters in CQ. …