New Zealand's Zero Data programme provides free access to government services

The New Zealand Government, which is currently ranked 4th in the United Nation's E-Government Survey, has deepened its commitment to closing the digital divide with a new programme called Zero Data, which provides free access to critical online public information and services. 

The Zero Data programme gives low-income citizens access to essential government services by lowering the cost barrier of mobile data. This comes as the government moves to digital channels as its primary source of communication, putting those with limited access to mobile data at a serious disadvantage.

Under the new agreement, instead of the user being responsible for the cost of mobile data used to visit government sites, participating government agencies will absorb the cost, which so far include: The Ministry of Education, the Department of Internal Affairs, Health New Zealand, Homes & Communities, the Ministry of Justice, the Accident Compensation Corporation, and the Ministry of Social Development.

“Many New Zealanders, especially those with limited financial resources, rely solely on mobile devices like phones and tablets to connect to the internet and gain access to the world wide web’s wealth of information and services. However, mobile data isn’t free. Therefore, the price of mobile data can be prohibitive,” The government states on its official website.

The Zero Data service can be used by anyone with a mobile phone or tablet linked to a supported network operator, which includes Spark, Skinny, One NZ, 2degrees, Slingshot, or Orcon. The service is unavailable if the user’s device is in roaming mode, accessing the internet through a non-participating provider, or using fibre optics. 

The IP addresses of each user will be logged when they access the Zero Data service, but no personally identifying information will be stored so as to preserve personal data. 

Closing the digital divide 

Zero Data is the latest in a series of schemes designed to close the digital divide and to boost connectivity across the country.

The government’s Rural Broadband Initiative has been instrumental in expanding broadband and mobile coverage to New Zealand’s rural and isolated areas. As of the end of 2022, almost 1,211 kilometres of State Highway have cell coverage thanks to government connectivity efforts. At the same time, mobile coverage is available at 114 tourist hotspots, broadband has been extended to more than 600 maraes, and improved broadband is now available to roughly 80,000 homes and businesses in rural areas.

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