Martha Lane Fox, Queen of the Digitally Excluded

The Government’s Digital Inclusion Champion and my newest Facebook friend, Martha Lane Fox, gave a speech at yesterday’s Parliament and Internet Conference in Westminster.

There is a group of 4 million people, including the elderly and families living on the breadline, who do not have access to the internet and who run the risk of losing out in the digital economy. Moreover the children (20% of families don’t have internet access) face being left behind their education as other children forge ahead with modern life skills.

Aside from her inspirational case studies a few points interesting points arose:

Research suggest that if internet was provided to all families currently without then it would add £10Bn to the economy.

Cost was seen to be the significant barrier to internet access amongst the poor. We were told that these same families would be able to save £300 a year by accessing cheaper products online – if they were able to do so – a tangible incentive.

Earlier in the day Carphone Warehouse strategist Andrew Heaney, in discussing the 50 pence Digital Britain tax on analogue lines, said that CW had estimated that they could lose 100,000 customers as a result.

I put this point to Martha and she agreed that there were conflicting government goals here. On the one hand wanting to reach the digitally excluded whilst on the other hand raising the barriers by increasing prices.

Note I take Andrew Heaney’s comments with a pinch of salt. The former Ofcom executive has very firmly established himself in the anti-regulation camp here – gamekeeper turned poacher!

In walking the corridors of Westminster there is definitely a feeling of the last days of empire. However MLF has a two year remit which seems likely to span different flavours of Government. Her appointment appears non political with support from both sides of the House of Commons and so her role will hopefullybe safe under the Conservatives (should they win the election 🙂 ).

MLF will have to use all her powers of influence and persuasion to make her mark here and we all wish her every success.

To conclude, MP and Communications Group co-chair Derek Wyatt came up with the idea of getting industry to help educate the digitally excluded by providing help with training. This met with the universal approval of the meeting and is an initiative that is well worth everyone’s support.

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  1. Glad you like Martha, everyone seems to, so she must be great person. I still feel however that the best way to engage people is to make access to the internet easier. I have been working on this as a volunteer for many years. Currently the majority of connections I come across are crap. Either rural notspots or urban cheap/free/crap ISPs. From an industry standard it should be regulated better. Ofcom just don’t get IT. Governments don’t get IT.
    Broadband as a utility just needs to work. And currently unless you live near an exchange and have a good ISP it doesn’t. End of.
    Making it easy to get online is the first stage. You can’t demonstrate email and websites to a luddite whose connection keeps dropping off. they aren’t impressed. Show them something that loads quickly and is simple and you hook them. They are then digitally engaged. For a digitalbritain to work we need good tools. You can make an old pc rock if you shove it on to a good internet feed. Cloud computing is here. But it needs the feed. Bring on the fibre.

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