We don’t talk enough about the link between digital inclusion and economic growth, so this morning I thought I would. I was on a panel at the The Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum (PICTFOR) in cooperation with Next Gen Events Breakfast Event on Broadband which was seeking to get a range of voices and opinions.
I always quake slightly when standing up in front of a room full of people whose jobs and passions are about broadband infrastructure as I assume that they won’t care or be interested in my view that we need more balance in the debate – a bit more ‘people’ alongside the vocal ‘pipes’ constituent. But my assumption was wrong. There was lots of support for the view that everyone should be supported, encouraged – and even subsidised – to get the skills and access they need to use the internet, which made me feel very positive. It would be fair to say some people in the room were more assertive and more ambitious about the need for substantial funding for digital inclusion.
The infographic my colleague Vicky and I produced for the event (below) shows that people don’t use the internet due to:
- Motivation: 54% of people don’t have broadband at home as they “felt didn’t need it”
- Skills & Confidence: 22% cite lack of internet skills as the reason
- Access for Sustained Use: Fewer than 1% said poor broadband access was the reason they’re not online. However, for some they just can’t afford the internet at home and this is a barrier to them become a frequent and sustained user.
Digital inclusion for me combines policy and action on these three fronts: Motivation (raising awareness); Skills & Confidence (raising basic competence levels); and Access for Sustained Use (helping people to get information or subsidies to access the internet at home).
I rarely say we need more money for digital inclusion, but today I did. I’m asking for more balance when investing in a nation where everyone can use digital services and drive our digital economy. The £1bn – £1.5bn investment in the superfast infrastructure impact on economic growth will deliver 0.5% to our GDP The Superfast and The Furious, Policy Exchange) however we expect the contribution of digital to the GDP to increase by 4.1% in the next four years due to our use of the internet. Surely the UK needs to invest far more in helping people to use it and get sustained access to it? I also called for a focus on outcomes (people) – e.g. jobs, education, inclusion – and not just on outputs (pipes), which isn’t always the widely held view.
I know not everyone will agree with my views, but the figures are difficult to argue with. And this is a debate we will need to keep having until we get the balance right – I hope with every event like this we are getting closer to reaching that balance.