Current approaches to tackling the divide
New forms of enterprise, new types
of skills, new sources of wealth and new forms of social interaction - these are
among the benefits of the "Information Society". Businesses and
governments alike promote the new technologies for the benefits they will bring.
if these developments are seen as being beneficial,
then the lack of them is seen as a cause for concern. Many people, mostly those
already poor or socially disadvantaged in some other way, cannot or do not have
access to the new technologies and the opportunities they bring. These people -
"socially excluded", in the current jargon - stand on the wrong side
of the "digital divide".
Action to tackle the divide
Governments across the western world
are beginning to take action to try to bridge the perceived divide. Apart from a
sackload of strategy documents, practical measures are being taken in some
places to increase access to computers and the Internet.
One approach is that of Arizona in
the US. Here the TOPAZ project (Telecommunications Open Partnerships of Arizona)
is aimed at providing broadband access rural communities. Over the next 5
years Arizona expects to spend $100 million supporting local public agencies in
purchasing broadband telecoms services, via a statewide carrier service.
Arizona state has contracted with 9
leading telecoms providers to develop the service. In this way the network
is being "pushed" out to the communities. The "pull" factor
comes from the state encouraging, and financially supporting, local authorities,
tribal governments, health and education providers and the not-for-profit sector
to aggregate demand. In this way the business case is made for continued
roll-out of the service.
A similar principle of building the business
case by aggregating demand is being tested in Scotland. In many areas the
biggest users of telecommunications come from the public sector. Government
agencies are being given more leeway than they are in England to work with the
telecoms operators in bringing broadband into areas that would take forever for
the market to reach.
In England, a series of pilot
projects are being developed by the DFEE (Department for Education and
Employment). Some £10 million has been awarded to 7 communities seen to be
potentially on the wrong side of the digital divide. These are a mix of urban
and rural areas:
Kensington, Liverpool, one of England's most disadvantaged inner
city communities. Over 400 households are being wired up, with a total of 2,000
PCs to be installed
The Carpenters Estate, Newham, East London: an inner city
housing estate. All 750 households and the local primary school will be wired
Framlingham, Suffolk: a rural area, centred on a market town,
involving the more deprived areas that exist alongside pockets of affluence.
1,500 homes and the local school will be wired up;
BeaconNet, East Manchester: an inner city housing estate where
all 4,500 homes will be wired up along with local schools;
Whitebirk Estate, Blackburn: an area in a town with inner city
features. Over 2,500 homes will be wired up and five local schools will benefit;
Alston, Cumbria: a rural area in which 1,200 homes across three
small towns and isolated farms will be wired up. The project will involve two
primary schools and a secondary school;
Brampton upon Dearne, S Yorkshire: a former coalfield community.
All 1,500 households in the community will be wired up and all 265 children at
the local primary school will be provided with laptops.
Across these pilot areas, the government will test a range of
technologies, including broadband and narrowband access, satellite
communications and digital television. Community-based portals will be
developed, an a specially developed website will encourage people to use
ICT to look for learning and employment opportunities and to support community
Schoolchildren in the selected communities will be provided with
laptops for use in schools and at home.
Similar projects to the "Wired Up Communities" are
also being developed in Nottingham and in Hull, where
the local councils are able to take advantage of good levels of existing cable
and telecoms infrastructure to set about connecting thousands of council-owned
homes to the Internet and/or interactive TV.
Will all this technology make a difference?
Advocates of using new technologies to overcome social exclusion
will always say that technology and connectivity are not in themselves the
answer. But they do provide some routes in to opportunities - for both personal
and community development.
The UK government certainly believes that deprived
neighbourhoods will benefit from being wired up. A report from last year from
the government's Policy Action Team 15 highlighted the anticipated benefits:
acquiring knowledge and developing skills
developing confidence and self-esteem which reinforce family and
pursuing leisure interests and opportunities
publishing and broadcasting their opinions and ideas and
relating that experience to that of others globally
supporting and developing small businesses
being empowered to campaign and participate in the democratic
The Wired Communities, approach, however, does not prejudge the
answers. Rather it wishes to "assess how individual access to the Internet
can transform opportunities for people living in the most disadvantaged
communities by developing new ways of accessing learning, work and leisure
The lessons learned will then inform priorities for wiring up
communities in the future.
>> Creating work opportunities and lasting
>> How real is the digital divide?
Divide", like the term "Information Superhighway", is a kind
of misleading short-hand to describe something complex and dynamic.
While some commentators deny
the concept has any any real meaning, others see tackling it as the key to
ensuring the fruits of prosperity are evenly spread in the New Economy.
In this article we look beyond the
hype to the real issues, and how businesses and government agencies should
respond. The article is divided into 3 sections:
Current approaches to tackling
the digital divide (this page)
Creating new forms of work
and lasting benefits
We come up with a checklist of activities to ensure that projects
really deliver in the long-term
real is the divide?
There's a bit of a debate about the divide - some commentators deny
it exists. Or if it does exist, does it matter? A few facts and figures here