The Great Digital Divide
All digital users are equal.
But some are less equal than others.
The internet is supposed to be the great equaliser, giving everyone access to information and creating opportunities for all. But millions of adults in the UK don’t have the basic digital skills to use the internet without help. How much are they missing out on? And what urgent actions can be taken to tackle the UK’s growing digital divide?
We live in an increasingly digital age and those who cannot engage effectively with the digital world are at risk of being left behind. Digital skills are increasingly important for accessing information, using services, connecting with others and performing in the workplace. According to Lloyds Consumer Digital Index 2020, as many as nine million adults in the UK can’t use the internet and 90 per cent of them suffer from other kinds of economic or social disadvantages.
There are regional gaps across the UK, with Northern Ireland showing the highest proportion (14.2%) of non-internet usage, followed by the North East of England (12.1%), while unsurprisingly, London has the lowest proportion of internet non-users (7.0%). Age is also a factor - adults over the age of 65 years have consistently made up the largest proportion of the adult internet non-users, and over half of all adult internet non-users are over the age of 75 years.
Yet shifting non-users into digitally proficient users could yield substantial benefits to individuals and the wider economy. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has found that people with basic digital skills achieve 3-10 percent higher earnings; have lower unemployment, benefit from cheaper shopping (research shows that on average people using the web save £276 per year); enjoy more frequent social contact and can access vital services more quickly than people with no digital skills.
The issue of solving the digital divide, and of digital inequalities, is a real challenge but it must be addressed. While a significant portion of the population remains offline or as digital non-users, businesses (and government) will have to run parallel service structures. This adds to costs and complexity, and reduces the potential savings from e-business. The government knows how critical closing the digital divide is to the nation’s prosperity, and working together with industry and the social sector, they could make this happen.
Here in Northern Ireland, the High Performance Network (HPN) team is taking the initiative to help close this region’s digital divide. In some rural parts of Northern Ireland internet connectivity has traditionally been appallingly poor and both householders and SMEs have suffered as a result. Under the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, we are designing and installing purpose-built fibre broadband networks to bring coverage to these broadband blackspots. In so doing, we are helping to transform the social and business life of these communities by helping them to embrace reliable digital technology.
If you would like to talk to HPN about fast, reliable broadband as part of a new business plan, or would like your local rural area to be considered as a future project, call me, Paul Hagan, or any member of the High Performance Networks team on 028 9053 8411. We’ll help you manage your broadband in ways that are right for your business.