Almost a third of low-to-middle income earners in NSW have had to limit their mobile phone use for financial reasons, according to new research, and there are concerns coronavirus will exacerbate this digital divide.
The survey by the NSW Council of Social Service and the University of Technology Sydney's Institute of Public Policy and Governance was completed by 730 people living in low and low-to-middle income households around the state.
Conducted in May 2019, the survey found 29 per cent of respondents had to limit their mobile phone due to monetary reasons in the previous year.
This figure rose with the proportion of people's income spent on housing costs. Of the respondents who spent more than 40 per cent of their pre-tax income on housing, 41 per cent had to limit their phone use.
NCOSS chief executive Joanna Quilty says the research reveals significant telecommunications access issues, which are being aggravated by the COVID-19 outbreak.
"We can clearly see that there is a digital divide in NSW and it is those on lower incomes, those living with a disability and those relying on government payments that are being left behind," Ms Quilty said in a statement on Friday.
Five per cent of survey respondents who spent less than 10 per cent of their income on housing costs said they had been unable to pay their mobile bill on time in the past 12 months and as a result had to do without internet, text or phone calls until they could make payments.
However, this rose to 23 per cent for those who spent more than 40 per cent of income on housing.
A total of 16 per cent of respondents said they have a mobile phone without data but the survey found this number was higher for people with disability and people who receive government support payments as their main source of income.
Ms Quilty said coronavirus would only exacerbate the disparity shown in the data.
"COVID-19 is leading to more people trying to access government services online, people being forced to work from home, and people needing online access for health and education," she said.
"It is also our primary way of connecting to family, friends and the outside world.
"But as this research demonstrates, for many people in our community this is simply out of reach and will only lead to greater economic and social dislocation."
Ms Quilty said far more needed to be done to make sure all Australians had access to basic telecommunications services.
Australian Associated Press