Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report calls for all households to have access to a 2Mb/s internet connection from 2012. Yet a recently published Ofcom report claims that many people who would benefit are simply not interested or believe they can’t afford it.
The report says that 42 per cent of adults without the internet at home said the main reason was lack of interest or need. Many were older and retired, with 61 per cent of them never having used a computer.
Thirty per cent cited cost or lack of skills as the reason for not accessing the internet at home.
A startling 43 per cent of adults without internet access at home say they would remain so even if given a free PC and broadband connection.
Of course, many might be persuaded if approached from the right angle – for instance, offered access to multi-channel TV entertainment at a cost that competes with other paid services such as Sky.
In 2008, 35 per cent of UK households did not have broadband access.
For all that Gordon Brown says a digital nation is essential to our financial recovery and our rightful place as a ‘global economic powerhouse’, talk is cheap and apparently just about all that we can afford.
There seems to be little government money available for this digital investment, beyond this relatively minor levy on existing fixed phone lines.
Brown recently said government and the private sector have a significant
He suggested that we can create the right framework, for example, for the release of wireless spectrum – a national asset – while also liberalising its use and extending mobile broadband coverage.
One might presume that frequencies so released will be auctioned – governments have a history of selling off the family silver. Might one also presume the money thus raised would provide connectivity and the appropriate kit to the currently unconnected?
Public investment in broadband is necessary and we must first address the socio-economic divide. Seventy-four per cent of households in the South-East have internet access, while the North-East has just 54 per cent of homes online.
That is, frankly, a deplorable situation of which this government and its predecessors should be thoroughly ashamed.
The Prime Minister recognises the problem of a two-tier Britain, but merely making internet connectivity ‘available’ to the technologically disenfranchised isn’t the answer.
It should be noted that 93 per cent of adults with a degree or equivalent qualification are likely to have access to the internet at home. Only 56 per cent of people with no formal qualifications are likely to have a domestic internet connection.
Such figures are the symptoms of a problem, the facing and fixing of which has defeated many governments before this one, and will challenge many that follow it.
Education in both its broadest and most narrow sense, substantial investment in basic infrastructure and tangible support for the smaller enterprises that power our economy will liberate the disenfranchised.
Such investment and leadership can only come from central government, but not right now. Or so it seems.
Keith Warburton is chief executive officer at the Professional Computing Association (PCA)
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