Zero Data: Empowering NZ with free access to vital Government resources

The New Zealand Government has launched a program, dubbed ‘Zero Data’, to address the digital exclusion gap experienced by many Kiwis.

The initiative, led by several organisations including the ACC, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Social Development, and the Department of Internal Affairs, aims to give people without mobile data or with very little data access to vital information and resources.

Because many New Zealanders cannot access vital health and well-being information due to cost constraints, the New Zealand Government has made its most critical websites available for free through the intuitive portal:

All Spark, Skinny, One NZ, 2degrees, Warehouse Mobile, Slingshot, or Orcon mobile network customers are eligible for the initiative.

Under the Zero Data initiative, the appropriate department immediately covers any mobile data fees when viewing material through this site, guaranteeing that individuals are not subjected to the expenses.

The Department of Internal Affairs estimates that 20 per cent of New Zealanders experienced some digital exclusion in 2019. This is the source of the inspiration for Zero Data.

Limited computer or internet access, language challenges, and disability are some causes of this exclusion. In 2019, New Zealand reiterated its commitment to digital inclusion by releasing the 2019 Digital Inclusion Action Plan to address this issue. This plan outlined the government’s goals, emphasising that all citizens may participate in and benefit from the information economy.

The reality of the digital divide was further underlined by the Covid-19 epidemic, as people relied heavily on digital platforms for remote work, online education, and access to essential services. The importance of digital inclusion to New Zealand’s economic and social well-being, and the severity of the consequences for those excluded, were brought home as the country experienced levels 4 and 3 restrictions. The effects of social inequality were amplified as the pandemic continued to put social and economic pressure on New Zealanders, making the difficulties faced by digitally excluded individuals and groups even more apparent.

The pandemic brought new issues and opportunities into broader focus. In response, the Department of Internal Affairs updated the action plan, releasing the Digital Inclusion Action Plan 2020-2021, emphasising the Government’s efforts to reach those in New Zealand who are not yet connected online by addressing how services are funded and delivered. This plan aimed to lay firm groundwork for digital inclusion to address these problems.

The plan’s goals included promoting digital literacy and providing universal, low-cost access to computing resources.

Zero Data is a step on the digital inclusion journey, simplifying access to crucial data and digital services, and enabling people to access essential government services without using all their data allotment or paying extra fees.

Zero Data also streamlines user navigation by centralising access to participating websites through a single portal. As more government agencies join the project, the variety of information and services offered on the homepage will grow. However, although the centralised portal is available through any connection, Zero Data cannot be used with internet or fibre connections and is only available through mobile devices linked to mobile partner networks.

While Zero Data aims to increase digital participation, it is essential to recognise some restrictions. Users seeking non-sponsored material or websites may experience technical difficulties and see an error message. To get around this, those looking for unsponsored content can use free internet connections at their local libraries, schools, maraes, or other establishments and services providing customers free WiFi.