Today, I’m getting excited about partnerships. In particular, I’m excited about partnerships with corporates, because I believe we can’t remove all of the barriers to the digital divide without them.
We know what the barriers are to full digital inclusion:
- Motivation: understanding the relevance of the internet to your life
- Skills: knowing how to use the internet so that you are independent and confident
- Access: having access to the internet at home or somewhere else affordable and local.
Something surprising happened in Ofcom’s latest research shows that in just one year the change in the number of people who say cost is a major reason why they don’t use the web has jumped from 22% to 32%.
We can help people to gain the basic digital skills, in UK online centres, but to really practice using the web and to embed it into your day to day life I think, in 2014, it’s become ideal to have access to the internet at home.
Yesterday The Times reported on some research undertaken earlier this year by Keep Me Posted, a consumer rights group that shows living in a broadband not-spot impacts on your cost of living. And the same can be true of the millions of people who live in an area with good broadband but who lack the motivation, skills and potentially money to take it up.
So we need to see if we can bring low cost broadband into the reach of more people and to look at co-existing barriers and how we remove them.
The fact is the public, and the voluntary and community sector, can only do so much. We need commercial support. And the good news is that our corporate partners are offering it.
We’ve been looking at the issue of home access for some time, and we’ve run various projects and pilots to learn what works, where and how. Currently, we’re working with both Vodafone and TalkTalk on two pilot projects I find particularly exciting. You can read a previous blog about Vodafone here, and I’ll tell you more when our research results are in, specifically tracking the impact mobile broadband has on internet engagement and use. In the meantime, it’s our work with TalkTalk and the ‘Internet Start’ programme I want to focus on today.
Twenty UK online centres will be taking part in a pilot recruiting Internet Guides (volunteers) to go out into communities and talk to people about the benefits of being on the internet at home. The TalkTalk Internet Start offer is one solution they will talk about – it’s a good value package combining a decent tablet device, a low cost broadband connection and support (including UK online centre guidance).
TalkTalk’s Chief Executive Dido Harding is committed to helping to reduce the number of people who suffer digital exclusion, and I think that’s why TalkTalk have thought through so carefully what the barriers are that stop people from taking up home broadband:
- People need a solution for both a device and for broadband – which is why Internet Start has a tablet and broadband offer.
- People don’t know how to set up their router – someone will come and set it up, at no extra charge.
- People are nervous about it being right for them – there’s a month free up front, to try-before-you-buy.
- Phone lines are expensive to install – there’s no cost for telephone installation.
- People know they will get stuck – there’s a telephone helpline staffed by people who specialise in helping people new to home internet.
- Even a tablet may be too complicated for some people new to the internet – there’s the choice of a Breezie tablet with a simple interface for beginners.
Everything, in short, is covered, and after a free trial period of being online at home for a month, people involved in the programme will be given a no-pressure choice – explained clearly by their Internet Guide at each stage – to keep their tablet at a small cost of £50, and begin a cheap monthly broadband contract.
People can choose from a Lenovo tablet or an android tablet loaded with the simple Breezie interface. It’s too early to tell which is the most popular, although the local partners involved like the Breezie as it simplifies the internet making the web even easier to get started.
The idea is that once you engage someone online and support them, they will either realise the benefits (and indeed efficiencies) of connection, and be prepared to budget for it, or choose to return their devices having given it a proper good go. We’ll see, in time, how many turn down the offer.
I know TalkTalk are a commercial company and that they also hoping to win new customers who will stay with them over the years. I also know that they want to make this programme work and that they see UK online centres as perfect partners to reach more people with a new offer that suits them. And actually, that’s fine.
I don’t expect corporate partners to become involved in digital inclusion purely out of the goodness of their hearts, or their CSR policies. That’s simply not going to be sustainable for anyone. Yes, there is very much an ethical and ideological leading edge to Internet Start, but there is also a commercial angle. I actually think TalkTalk have put their necks out here, and made a real line in the sand other companies might struggle to emulate.
If Internet Start can just help a small proportion of the 3 million people who say cost is still keeping them off the internet at home, then together, we will be doing a good job.
It may not reach the very, very hardest to reach, the most excluded, and those people that just can’t afford broadband at any cost. But that’s our challenge in the public, voluntary and community sector, after all. Imagine, though, if offers like this one from TalkTalk could provide for just a third of the 3 million – then that’s 1 million more people with the motivation, skills and also access to be part of the digital world. Imagine, if in doing so, profits could enable more investment in those very hardest to reach? That’s the beginning of the truly digital nation. And that’s what’s so exciting.