In May, the BBC announced that two of its key channels, BBC Four and CBBC, are due to cease broadcast as linear channels and move online, as part of plans by the BBC to become “digital-first”.
This is not out of the ordinary, with many businesses following suit and capitalising on increased connectivity and consumer demand and moving towards digital-first offerings.
However, with around 1.5m households still without internet access (as of April 2021), this move towards a digital-first future raises concerns around widening the digital divide and leaving those without internet access behind.
It begs the question of how far we’ve really come towards reaching full digital inclusion in the UK, and how we can guarantee it.
What is digital inclusion?
Digital inclusion refers to ensuring that everyone can access the benefits of the internet and digital technologies, including for use in our personal lives, education, social services, healthcare and community participation.
In 2014, the UK government launched a plan to bolster digital inclusion (or reduce digital exclusion). It focused on addressing four key challenges to getting online: access, skills, motivation and trust.
However, six years on in 2020, 5% of the UK population remained digitally excluded, with only 51% of households with earnings between £6,000 and £10,000 having home internet access.
Digital inclusion and internet access is crucial across our entire lives, from education to banking, from healthcare to our work lives. As such, it’s paramount we continue to make strides towards reaching full digital inclusion.
So, how can we achieve this and what are the key pillars?
The 3 pillars to digital inclusion
There are a myriad of factors that will contribute to overall digital inclusivity across the UK, but looking more generally, there are three key challenges to address: connectivity, education and technology.
The internet cannot be accessed without the right connectivity provisions in place. The Government recognised this crucial need, committing to reaching 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025, with a dedicated £5bn fund for connecting the most rural homes and businesses, known as ‘Project Gigabit’.
This gigabit-capable connectivity roll-out involves multiple players within the telecoms industry, from large-scale operators such as BT and Neos Networks, to smaller Alternative Network Providers (AltNets), but there’s still work to be done.
Digital inclusion isn’t just about internet access, it’s about the ability to use it.
Around 21% of UK adults do not have the Essential Digital Skills needed for an increasingly digital-first day-to-day life. To that end, a fundamental element to bridging the digital divide is providing education around the use of the internet, including its benefits, the services it can offer and, most importantly, exactly how to use it.
Technology itself - or rather, the improvement to technology - will play a crucial role in minimising digital disparity. According to research by the Good Things Foundation, 1.41m adults find the internet too complicated. As such, as well as providing education around digital use, technology itself must be enhanced, to improve and simplify user experience.
Everyone has to play their part
At CCgroup, we’re lucky enough to work with a broad range of clients across varying industries, all playing their part in increasing digital inclusion. Our clients are rolling out fibre and enhancing connectivity, providing education or supporting partners to provide education around getting online, and improving their technology to ensure accessibility.
Fundamentally, there are lots of factors at play when it comes to achieving UK-wide digital inclusion. However, if we can focus on the three challenges outlined above, we’ll be closer than ever before to providing everyone with the right tools to get online and keep pace with the shift to digital-first.