Projects to "wire up
communities" or accelerate the roll-out of broadband services will, if
successful, bring the Internet within the reach of people in many disadvantaged communities.
with the development of online educational content and access to useful information
online (like job opportunities, childcare, health and benefits information)
progress can be made in addressing the digital divide.
there are likely to be some major obstacles to achieving lasting benefits:
can poorer people pay market-rate access charges, or will there
be a continuing requirement for public subsidy?
will initiatives (e.g. learning
centres, community portals etc) survive when public funding runs out at the end
will people who do develop their
skills have to migrate out of the area to find work?
can the new infrastructure being
developed be used to bring work in to disadvantaged areas?
The Flexibility way forward
present here a list of priorities which we believe to be vital to achieving
lasting benefits. To some extent the government role is pivotal, but there is
much that other employers can do to bring work to poorer areas and to create
markets for their products.
existing work in disadvantaged communities.
should be a priority for public agencies. Often local authorities are the
largest employer in low employment areas. By having local offices and touch-down
centres for their staff they can achieve the business objective of locating
staff closer to their clients.
more than that, they can bring spending power into disadvantaged communities and
stimulate demand for local services.
the new networks come in is that remote workers can be seamlessly connected with
their organisation's headquarters. And this in turn provides a demand for
telecoms to make services viable.
employers can take advantage of lower premises and other costs to locate work
"down the wire" in less favoured areas.
work to disadvantaged areas
bodies and other employers can also stimulate local business growth and
start-ups by outsourcing many services, e.g. call centres, data processing and
professional services to companies that can work with them over the new
But it is not easy
to get this going, as the necessary skills may not exist initially in the
community. So a first stage may be to work with outsourcing agencies and/or
develop local development companies to broker outsourcing arrangements and
promote collective marketing.
local businesses in developing their electronic capabilities
"Field of Dreams" approach - "build it and
they will come" - is unlikely to work. Just having access to the infrastructure will not equip
small enterprises to compete nationally and globally.
medium, small and micro businesses in disadvantaged areas have barely entered
the computer age. Support from skilled professionals is needed to help them
develop technology, training and market access strategies to take advantage of
broadband networks. And financial support for investment would also be most
in-migration of new businesses and teleworkers
have found that many of the most successful teleworkers in remote areas are
people who have moved into the area, or people who left, became successful in
their career and then return to their roots.
people t move in or return is probably easier to do in an attractive rural
setting than a deprived inner city area. But as well as the inflow of wealth
it's worth doing to provide examples of people teleworking successfully.
regulation to reduce the costs of access
This is one for the
government. The cost of access is too high and threatens the sustainability of
all "wired-up communities" projects.
needs to be tougher on ensuring that broadband services providers are not
overcharged - as is happening at the moment - for access to local exchanges. The
cost has to be passed on to the customer.
pretty much ensure that for the time being broadband access is for those on the
wealthier side of the digital divide.
aggregate demand to achieve good deals on telecoms
sector agencies are in a good position to strike better deals for broadband
access, by poling the demand of public services and the voluntary sector.
it is important to stimulate competition where possible, looking a the options
of using other service providers - cable, wireless and satellite.
the windfall from telecoms licences to support broadband infrastructure
This one is a bit of a pipe-dream, no
doubt. but the UK government has made £ billions from the auction for telecoms
licences. more of it should be fed back into developing broadband
At the end of the day, these windfalls mount up
to an indirect tax on users. To recoup their outlay, telecoms providers, up to
their necks in debt, feel they have to charge as much as they can. And the
burden of this debt is slowing down the roll-out of broadband networks.
support for community e-development
It may be a little trite to say it,
but the wired communities projects are not magic wands that will turn deprived
areas of the UK into little Silicon Valleys overnight.
There will remain a continuing need
for considerable public funds to be channeled into continuing community
development activities. And the "wired up" side of things cannot be
handed over to the market when a project finishes.
The types of "e-community"
activities valued by local people will need to be integrated into regular public