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

Monday, April 14th, 2014 (8:59 am) - Score 792

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.
Leave a Comment
18 Responses
  1. New_Londoner says:

    Not sure my tax pounds should be used to support “those in the population who have made a conscious choice not to use the Internet”, if this means extra costs being incurred for service delivery. Fair enough helping those unable through disability or lack of access, but not those without access through choice.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Agreed, albeit only in terms of this charter and not the BDUK development as you can never assume that somebody who lives in X location will always be of that mind-set.

    2. JNeuhoff says:

      Your tax pounds are used to support the poor BT shareholders.

    3. DTMark says:

      Easy to think this is just residentials. Perhaps mostly old and/or poor people.

      However there are also certain sectors where people who might claim to be business people are watching their businesses dying. Very “old school”. “Email? What’s that?”, “We don’t take cards” and so on.

      Such people are not really business people. Not any more, anyway. Who probably deserve more of a kick up the backside than some form of hand-out. Perhaps a campaign may engage them. But I’d say it’s up the individual, not the State.

    4. Mark Jackson says:

      In this case it should be said that it looks like the Government aren’t putting much in the way of money into the charter, which seems more intended to foster investment through the commercial sector.

  2. dragoneast says:

    The UK is the world’s marketing agency isn’t it? What else do we do?

  3. Matthew Williams says:

    Honestly until everyone can get at least 2Mbps in 3 years time this isn’t going to happen. Honestly it will slowly pickup over the next few years with Smart TVs and Tablets/Smartphones paving the way. Seen that myself my nan hadn’t even touched the internet till last year when my aunt brought her a kindle fire for her birthday.

    Major thing is making sure everyone can get online if they wish to sadly it looks like even in 2017 a lot of people will be restricted to basic browsing as they won’t have the speeds for streaming or other bits and pieces which is a main part of the internet these days. I honestly hope the EU does go ahead with its a 100% goal as honestly I think that is only way the last 5% will get full access.

  4. Sledgehammer says:

    What about all the people with mental illness, who can’t operate a PC let alone get on line. They will never get 100% of people online.

  5. Chris Conder says:

    Until everyone has a fit for purpose connection we can’t expect people to go online as a given. Many millions can’t get a decent connection. Only those near cabinets can get so called ‘superfast’ and those on exchange only lines can only get ‘up to’ 20 Mbps or so. Its all a superfarce, and the government actually believe the hype that 90% are going to get ‘fibre broadband’. Throwing money into stupid projects to get people online is providing jobs for the boys, the snouts in the trough brigade. The money should go into getting the infrastructure right, providing competition via alternative providers to the monopoly so they up their game and stop patching up their old phone network, and then people will start to go online naturally. We didn’t have to fund people to take driving tests or learn how to use tv sets or moblie phones. We shouldn’t have to teach people how to get online. If the service is there and all their mates/family/workplace can get a good connection they will see the benefits and use it. I can see the benefit in giving groups like age concern a bit of funding to help them help older folk, but I can’t see the point in any more millions going to online centres who drag people in off the streets for half baked useless courses when the people taking them can’t get a connection at home to use the ‘skills’. Libraries could also benefit, as a good connection there is handy, but the problem is the areas without connectivity don’t have libraries either.

    1. Matthew Williams says:

      Whoever thinks the government knows what it is doing should be in broadmoor, out of curiosity has a solution to exchange only lines been though of yet?

    2. FibreFred says:

      Chris it sounds like you are saying these 11 million are all people with poor connections which is stopping them going online , is that true ? Care to share the breakdown of the 11 million and what they can access in terms of broadband ?

    3. New_Londoner says:

      It really is nonsense to suggest that people are not using the internet due to the lack of Gigabit services. As for saying only people close to cabinets get fast broadband, lines of 1Km plus can get over 24Mbps, and that covers around 90% of us. Vectoring could see that increase to as much as 40Mbps at 1Km.

      If you must keep telling us that Altnets are the answer, please explain why these companies are doing so little now. Your B4RN project for example seems to be way behind its original build plan, whilst most of the BDUK projects seem to be ahead of schedule judging from stories on here and TBB.

    4. TheFacts says:

      EO lines are being solved by installing a cabinet outside the exchange.

    5. JNeuhoff says:

      “EO lines are being solved by installing a cabinet outside the exchange.”

      How stupid (not you). EO lines seem to be a unique problem in the UK, I have never seen it elsewhere. Our local exchange is a huge building, virtually empty, yet they will have to dig up the pavement to the front of it to put in a cabinet.

    6. FibreFred says:

      “Our local exchange is a huge building, virtually empty, yet they will have to dig up the pavement to the front of it to put in a cabinet.”

      I believe they need to to comply with Ofcom regs

    7. Matthew Williams says:

      Wouldn’t it be cheaper in some places not to build Cabinets for Exchange only lines and just make them FTTP?

    8. FibreFred says:

      ^ Its probably a case by case thing I would expect but I would expect short term a cab would be cheaper, no visits to the home, no long fibre runs and you do it all in one hit.

      If you did FTTP it would be staggered, one person might want it one week, then nothing for months/years.

      Longer term, definitely cheaper to go FTTP because if you stand up a cab outside the exchange the fibre isn’t actually getting any closer to the home

  6. zemadeiran says:

    Should GCHQ not be footing the bill for Digital inclusion into it’s and the NSA’s data mining systems?

    Oh! that’s right GCHQ’s funding comes out of our pockets which is how we keep tabs on ourselves!?

    Meat for the grinder….

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