A manifesto from the UK's Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox, calls for urgent action to get millions of people online by the end of 2012 and also has an ambition to get everyone of working age online by the end of this Parliament to ensure that when people retire, they will have the skills to reap the benefits that the web delivers. Around 10 million people in the UK have never used the Internet and these people are losing out both economically and socially by staying offline according to the document.
"Networked Nation is a rallying cry for the 40 million internet users in the UK to help 10 million people who have yet to enjoy the huge benefits of the web that the vast majority of us enjoy every day. By getting more people online, everyone wins. Businesses are competing for more online customers. Government needs to deliver better for less. Charities want to support the people they serve better. So we are calling on them to work together and tackle the unfairness and lost opportunities caused by digital exclusion, and deliver positive social change."Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion
The make up of the 10 million is weighted towards the older age group with one in two of those aged 65-74 offline and over three quarters of those aged 75 or over. Of the younger age groups only 10% of people aged 16 to 24 are offline. The highest density of those offline are in northern England and Scotland. Part of this will be due to poor availability of access such as those who live in broadband not-spots.
The many benefits of getting online are discussed in the manifesto with various stats and figures to back up the claims. Getting everyone online could bring an estimated £22 billion of economic benefit to the UK economy. Much of the savings can be achieved through lower costs at government that this would introduce as each contact and transaction with government reportedly costs between £3.30 and £12. Only 20% of public services are currently online, but government does need to be careful how it spends its money making services available, avoiding repeats of things such as the £105m website. Talking to The Today Programme on Radio 4, Lane Fox said that the UK government must think 'Internet first' to encourage services to be available on a mass scale quickly but she also pointed out that many people in government can't use the Internet which may prove a bit of a barrier to implementing this.
Consumer will get cost savings from being online through shopping and buying utilities online, with on average savings of £560 per year. Education is another way in which the nation can benefit. If the 1.6 million children in families without Internet access got online at home, it could boost their combined lifetime earnings by over £10 billion, and help them achieve a two grade improvement in a subject at GCSE. The web also helps improve social inclusion of older people with half of Internet users saying that the web increases contact with family and friends who live far away.
The question comes as to how to achieve the aims in the manifesto without funding from central government. Race Online are looking to their partners to achieve this who can help get more people online through strategies to communicate the benefits of the Internet. 437 companies have signed up to this so far with pledges to get 1.5 million new people online in the next few years. Lane Fox points out that many resources already exist to get people online including hundreds of computers in local schools that get locked up at night but could be used to grant people access to the 'net. Other recommendations include ensuring that cheap broadband is available via 'social tariffs' for those that are on low incomes or are looking for work.
The other side of the coin is that many of the 10 million that are being focused on may not have a wish to get online, but raising awareness of the benefits of the Internet could persuade them otherwise. The full manifesto can be read here.