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Digital divide risks becoming a gulf unless public policy strikes a better balance between broadband roll out and online support, says Panel (Scotland)

31 May 2012

There is a serious risk that public policy currently underestimates the challenge of supporting people to get and stay online, Communications Consumer Panel member for Scotland Fiona Ballantyne said when she launched new research into digital participation at a stakeholder event with Consumer Focus Scotland in Glasgow.

She said: “There is an increasing drive for public and commercial services to be online, but about 11 million people (22% of adults) in the UK still do not use the internet at home – and in some areas around the UK this percentage is far higher, as it is in Glasgow where 50% of people are offline. This means that a significant minority of people risk being excluded from online benefits and services. That’s why we are calling for clear targets to assess the progress being made in supporting people to get and stay online. The Panel also wants to see the Government strike a better balance between funding for broadband infrastructure and supporting people online. Sustainable growth for the future can only be achieved if broadband is used by most consumers and businesses.”

The Panel’s report Bridging the Gap: Sustaining online engagement explores people's digital needs and highlights solutions to support more people online, including a study of the key barriers beyond socio-economic deprivation that work to keep people offline, as in parts of Glasgow.

“The findings suggest that the barriers to getting online are more pronounced in the most deprived areas of Glasgow. We found that the familiarity of the offline world, along with an active social network of friends and family who are not online either, reinforce the belief that internet access is irrelevant to their lives. A perceived lack of affordability, technical complexity and support also work to keep people offline,” Fiona Ballantyne explained.

She said that the research has implications for funding, growth and policy: “The distance is increasing between consumers who are online, with access to new services and faster broadband, and people who remain anchored in the offline world. Unless fundamental action is taken now to give people the skills to exploit the advantages of the internet, the digital divide risks becoming a digital gulf,” Fiona Ballantyne concluded.

Digital divide risks becoming a gulf (Scotland) (PDF 143KB, opens in a new window)


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