Thursday, 26 June 2008

Digital Exclusion revisited

I’ve had a large amount of feedback on my Digital Exclusion article I posted on 18th June 08. I am greatly heartened that I seem to get the greatest feedback of all from ‘social issues’ like this.

One reader commented on a study he had participated in last year and reported “The major challenge that emerged from that piece of work was not providing affordable equipment for the low income groups but the simple fact that to have an internet connection you need a phone line and for those on low incomes this is often impossible as they do not have an acceptable credit rating. The only fixed line phone was maybe a shared payphone which will not be broadband enabled. Mobile internet is still prohibitively expensive for most and especially those on prepay contracts and also really requires a 3g connection which is still not universally available. Community wi-fi is also not yet a reality in areas other than major cities and not always free.”

It is interesting that, whereas the use of the internet varies dramatically by socio-economic group (82% of AB’s have internet access compared to just 35% of DE’s), the take-up of mobile phones is high across all socio-economic groups (AB – 90%, C1 90%, C2 86%, DE 76%) – Source – Ofcom Media Literacy Report.

Maybe mobile internet will be the breakthrough technology that, at long last, eliminates Digital Exclusion? Contrary to my reader’s comments above, I’m much more optimistic that cheap mobile internet access could arrive sooner than expected. The current takeup is rocketing (See my 9th June 08 article - My Generation). Smartphones really are taking off and will, in my opinion, soon be the mobile device of choice for the ‘masses’. The service bundles that now include mobile internet are getting cheaper by the day and, of course, the killer application – social networking sites like Facebook – have wide appeal across all socio-economic groupings.

Indeed, maybe this is also yet another threat to the competitiveness of our “Western Society”. As I reported earlier, more and more ‘developing’ nations are leapfrogging fixed-line broadband and going straight to mobile broadband. Children in those countries will access the internet via cheap smartphones and laptops. They will gain significant educational advantage over our own children in lower socio economic groups.

We seem to be fiddling whilst Rome burns. You know, with a bit of resolve and not too much funding, we really could ensure that every child from whatever socio-economic group had their very own internet access device.

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