Martha Lane Fox has put digital inclusion back ten years
Many people seem to think that efforts to close the digital divide only started in 2009 when Martha Lane Fox was appointed Digital Inclusion Champion. Helen Milner another member of the Digital Task Force and Managing Director of UK Online Centres said as much in December 2009 "Digital Inclusion has come a long way in a very short time. Two years ago it wasn't on the political radar"
In fact efforts to close the digital divide have been going on for at least twenty years and it's definitely been on the poltical radar since Tony Blair took office in 1997. Although he didn't have the title of Digital Inclusion Champion, Tony Blair certainly championed digital inclusion. Martha Lane Fox, appears intent on ignoring the history of the digital divide and any efforts, ideas or investment prior to 2009 and her aims are less than those of Tony Blair ten years ago.
In March 2000 Tony Blair said “The government has made a pledge that everyone will have universal internet access by 2005 and all government services will be available online by the same date.” Blair stressed that the internet should not “become the preserve of the young and the better off” and continued his commitment to get the poorer members of society online when he unveiled his internet plans in September 2000
These included new community based computer centres aimed at helping the homeless and jobless rejoin society as well as 100,000 refurbished computers to low income families. In 2003 the Oxford Internet Institute said that universal access had broadly been achieved as only 4% of Britons lack somewhere close by that they can surf the net.
In October 2009 Martha Lane Fox hit the headlines when she said “Getting everyone online would save billions for the government.” But Martha's plan is not to “get everyone online” but just 4 million of the poorest adults who have never been online, by 2012. “Getting everyone online” would be the 17 million people who are not presently going online, of these 10 million have never been online. Indicating that 7 million have tried it and have decided it’s not for them.
A similar pattern emerges when you look at just the 6 million socially excluded adults not going online, 2 million have in fact tried but have decided its not for them leaving the 4 million that Martha and her team are concentrating their efforts on.
The problem is not access or help as there are now an estimated 6000 UK online centres, on high streets, in libraries, internet cafes, Age Concern centres, old peoples homes, village halls and community centres. The problem is
" what will it do for me?"
The BBC found in a recent survey that 66% of those who have never been online simply aren't interested. While Ofcoms "Accessing the internet at home" research conducted in June 2009 found that 43% of those without access at home would remain offline even if they were given free broadband service and a free computer.
It would have helped if Martha and her team had read the history of the digital divide. One thing is certain her target group will look better year on year, even if she does nothing.
One of the largest and poorest groups who have never gone online are the over 65's and 300,000 to 400,000 people aged over 65 die every year in England and Wales.