Objectives and Proposals  

To ensure the benefits of technology are available to all

3.46 Much mention is made of the digital divide,but just what is it?The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)defines the digital divide as ‘the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs)and to their use of the internet for a wide range of activities.’

3.47 Concern about the development of a so-called digital divide has been increasing in government circles over the last five years.As ICT driven change begins to happen across the whole of society -with e-commerce,e-government, e-shopping,e-learning and e-democracy -research data shows,unsurprisingly, that it is the wealthy and well educated who are most likely to have home internet access,and that there is a growing gap between the richest and the poorest in terms of levels of access to the information society.

3.48 At nearly fifty percent,London already has the highest levels of home internet access of any of the English regions but the few figures available for analysis at a London level suggest that the gap between rich and poor in terms of home access to the internet is just as wide as elsewhere.In London,a number of London boroughs have begun to collect information about the local position but detailed capital-wide figures on a borough by borough basis are still not available.

3.49 The digital divide will be addressed just as much by education,literacy and skill initiatives as by programme directly aimed at tackling poverty.A report by Local Futures suggests that division will be eroded as London becomes a better educated city.By 2010 it is estimated that half of the city ’s workforce will be educated to degree level but clearly there are still major problems to be addressed between now and then.Some enthusiasts argue that access to new technology,coupled with training programmes,by themselves provide a route out of poverty.

3.50 Considerable funding has been put into a wide range of community ICT projects in the hope that this is the case,however there is,as yet,little hard evidence to show what effect these projects will have in the long term.There are many gaps in our knowledge about the links between access to and use of technology and deprivation.

e-government and the Digital Divide.

3.51 When concerns are expressed that those already most marginalised in our society,who tend to be amongst the heaviest users of public services,are the least likely to access public services on-line,the standard response is that the resources saved by dealing with simple or straightforward transactions on-line will be available to be ploughed back in to front line services for the most needy.

3.52 This may sound good in theory,however in practice few e-government projects have yet achieved the really significant cost savings that have been shown to be possible when private sector firms re-engineer their business processes.

3.53 Local government and national government budgetting practices make it hard to identify such savings in any event.If the preferred model for accessing many services in future is to be via a home PC or digital television,then clearly those who cannot afford to buy the equipment or subscribe to services will still be disadvantaged,even if there is a state of the art one stop public services centre just around the corner.

What is being done?

3.54 There are of course,many initiatives already under way to address the digital divide.The government is funding the establishment of physical UK On-line centres across the country,and last year Gordon Brown launched a scheme to provide reconditioned second hand computers to people living in deprived areas.

3.55 There are many skills and training programmes,and the National Grid for Learning aims to ensure that the whole of the next generation is IT literate from the start.Many London boroughs have won funding for pilot projects in local areas.

What LondonConnects can do

3.56 There remains a lack of good socio-demographic information about the detailed nature of the digital divide at a sub-regional level.At the same time there is little information about the differing levels of penetration of different kinds of access technologies -dtv,PC,WAP phone,games console etc.Nor is there much information about what kinds of interventions are most successful at the local level,or about what the main barriers to participation are.If we want to aim for universal access to the internet,is there a minimum technical standard that should be set?

3.57 Over the coming months LondonConnects will take part in a major study being developed by the Greater London Authority and London Development Agency,to accurately map the digital divide in London and build a better information base about the impacts of technology access and training on ordinary peoples lives.

3.58 This research will collate robust base data covering the whole of London. It will explore in detail the reasons for non-take up of ICT,which undoubtedly include price,but also questions of confidence,competence in use and the availability of interesting or useful content and services.

3.59 The study will also examine whether there are specific combinations of factors which particularly effect certain groups,such as older people,people from ethnic minority communities,or the young unemployed.It will make practical recommendations for LondonConnects and its partners,about the kinds of interventions most likely to have a positive impact on narrowing the digital divide.

3.60 LondonConnects will encourage all London boroughs to collect information about the digital divide and will work to ensure that such information is collected in a standard and easily shared form.