It has been almost three months now since the Government's Digital Britain report was published, and everyone interested in this area is still mulling over the implications of the report, with a prime focus on its internet ambitions. The Panel has published its response to the report today and you can read it on our website at: http://www.communicationsconsumerpanel.org.uk/Response%20to%20Digital%20Britain%20final%20report.pdf
The report could be the kick-of for a programme of work that delivers real benefits to consumers. Many people across the UK do not have the same fast, reliable broadband that others have access to and strong hopes have been raised that this situation will be remedied with suitable investment in infrastructure.
However, getting people online is about much more than delivering a reliable 2Mb/s internet connection. There are people who have never been online before, and who would welcome the opportunity to give it a go and learn how to use the internet in a safe environment. Others are reluctant to try accessing the internet out of fear for fraud, viruses and spam. Their needs should be catered for under the Digital Britain umbrella as well.
Recent discussions I have had with organisations delivering internet opportunities to a range of consumers on the ground have shown just how important the first impression for newcomers to the internet is, and how diverse the training needs of different people can be. I have heard how many older people prefer training that is delivered in a social, group setting by a well-know trusted organisation, where someone else has worried about which anti-virus protection to put in place and there is constant hands-on advice available as they go along. I have learned how blind learners of access technology, such as screen readers and people with autism, prefer one-to-one specialist training that works at their individual pace. Plus, people go online and expect to find websites that are well-designed, easy to use, accessible and in plain English and are put off if they are not. Disabled people who can not use a mouse expect specialist advice in training settings on the best alternative technology for them. And younger people might be more willing to learn through trial and error and will generally be less worried about ‘breaking the computer' when they are learning how to use it.
One message has come through loud and clear through all these conversations: if their expectations and training needs are not adequately met, newcomers to the internet will give up on the technology. Especially for people who have to make an extra effort to learn how to use computers and the web, there has to be a significant reward at the end: the internet has to make one of their personally important life areas, whether that is staying in touch, shopping, entertainment, finding information or using government services better, quicker or easier. Together with delivering the infrastructure and the training required, this is no small but a very worthwhile challenge for Government, industry and a whole host of organisations working at local level around the country.
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