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UK Digital Inclusion Charter Attempts to Get Everybody Online.. again

Monday, April 14th, 2014 (8:59 am) - Score 792
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If at first you don’t succeed. The Government has launched its new Digital Inclusion Charter, which marks the latest in a long list of attempts to get the 11 million adults in the United Kingdom, specifically those who “lack basic digital skills and capabilities“, to finally go online. As usual various ISPs, mobile operators and others have been roped in to join the holy war on refuseniks.

The effort is partly necessary because of the Government’s so-called “digital by default” strategy, which among other things seeks to save money by moving some services into an online-only mould. But of course it’s significantly harder to do this while a large portion of the country remain firmly offline and so over the years we’ve seen various efforts (e.g. Race Online 2012, GO On UK etc.) that have attempted to help get more people using the Internet.

Similarly the national Broadband Delivery UK scheme is also working to ensure that 95% of the population has access to a fixed line superfast broadband connection (or 98% if you include mobile and wireless services) by 2017, which among other things also includes a Universal Service Commitment (USC) to make speeds of at least 2Mbps available to everybody by 2012 2015 2017.

But now the government, Go ON UK and signatories to the new UK Digital Inclusion Charter (DIC) will jointly lead a “cross-sector partnership” focused on delivering a set of actions that mean, by 2016, they will have “reduced the number of people who are offline by 25%” and “will continue to do this every 2 years” until 2020 when “everyone who can be digitally capable will be“. As usual the new DIC is accompanied by a string of extremely vague commitments.

UK Digital Inclusion Charter Commitments

1. Use a common definition of basic online skills and capabilities.

2. Support the cross-sector national partnership programme across the country (building on Go ON UK’s partnership programme).

3. Identify and support best practice initiatives to grow through cross-sector working and complement the national partnership programme including: •uniting to support each regional partnership programme to give them the greatest chance of success:

• Piloting and scaling up initiatives which bring support to where people are in their daily lives.

• Embedding digital inclusion into partners’ communications activity to encourage people, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSEs) to take the first steps to going online.

• Piloting practical ways to make internet access, kit and digital skills cheaper and more easily available.

4. Make things simpler for users who lack basic online skills and capabilities by using a shared language.

5. Establish digitalskills.com as the trusted source of information about good quality help available to get people online.

6. Support the development of a national volunteering network of digital champions to enhance existing networks.

7. Support an online skills and capabilities programme for SMEs and VCSEs.

8. Share best practice and use data to measure performance and improve what we do.

9. Build the online skills and capabilities of people in our own organisations.

10. Work together to support the aims of the digital inclusion strategy.

The DIC will be conducted in partnership with everybody from the BBC to BT, TalkTalk, Vodafone, EE, Post Office, Asda, NHS England, Google, E.ON, Barclays and many more (total of 40). For example, EE intends to launch a National Techy Tea Party Day in all its UK stores, contact centres and offices on 9th September that will provide support for those seeking help with their digital skills. Meanwhile Asda will offer face-to-face advice sessions on going online in 60 stores.

The effort should be applauded but it’s also important to recognise that not everybody wants to go online, often even if they have the ability to do so. Meanwhile the Office for National Statistics recently estimated that there were 3.6 million disabled adults who had never used the Internet, which represents 31% of those who were disabled and over half (53%) of the 6.7 million adults who had never gone online (here). Similarly 5% (286,000) of adults earning less than £200 per week had never used the Internet but that’s an improvement from 8% at the end of 2011.

At the same time the United Kingdom still doesn’t have a legal Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband. The closest the Government can muster is a USC to make speeds of at least 2Mbps available to everybody by 2012 2015 2017, although such “commitments” aren’t binding and some notspots or slowspots will surely remain (unless you’re happy to spend on a pricey Satellite link with restrictive data caps and high latency, although there are some notspots for them too).

As a result there’s always a danger that, in trying to make some services online-only, the Government could end up running before it can walk and alienating those in the population who have made a conscious choice not to use the Internet. Meanwhile if you are going to make anything online mandatory then it’s usually best to have the infrastructure in place to delivery it first.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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