This week, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications published Broadband for all – an alternative vision. The report acknowledged something that we’ve known for quite some time – that people and businesses are being left behind due to a lack of access to computers and the internet.
The report focussed on the fact that government is more preoccupied with speed than with universal access, and made a number of recommendations to ensure we can bring access to as many people as possible throughout the UK.
While I welcome the report, and such a public statement of just how important the internet is for individuals, communities and organisations, I for one felt quite bamboozled by all the jargon, and talk of spectrums, dark fibre and point-to-point FTTP had me lost. For me, this is the real difficulty I found with the report, and it brings me me back to an issue I’ve discussed at length before – one of people vs pipes. Of course, having the infrastructure in place is essential to ensuring we can become a fully digital nation, but by putting all of our eggs into the broadband basked we’re ignoring what is a far bigger issue – that of skills.
8 million people have never used the internet before, and around 14.5 million do not have adequate skills to get any benefit from it. That’s over 20 million people, a third of the UK population. Whenever we talk about being a digital nation, and where we want to position the UK in the digital league table, we need to remember these 20 million people, and ensure that by investing in better pipes we are not leaving them behind.
Despite the technical jargon in the Broadband for all report, for me the pipes is the easy bit. Sure it takes investment, and a huge number of people working together, but we know we can achieve it. What I’d like to see now is an equal or greater commitment to the difficult job of upskilling these 20 million people, something that UK online centres throughout the country are doing every day, with very little funding. For me, this is the real challenge, and one I hope will be recognised.
We’re keen to join up the people with the pipes, so we’ll be soon be publishing a link to all of broadband plans submitted by local authorities, and we’re hoping to help support the demand stimulation side of these plans. I’ll blog more about this in the coming weeks.