Now More Than Ever, Everyone Needs Access to Digital
As things become increasingly digital, there’s a small proportion of the population losing their voice, access to services, and ability to participate in society. Despite overall access to the Internet increasing, with 96 percent of households connected. According to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there’s a stark disparity between generations. Here, Sam Hales, sales and marketing director at FTTP infrastructure provider MS3 Networks, investigates the issue of digital inclusion.
It’s true, the UK’s digital economy really is flourishing. With the development of its critical building blocks like superfast internet and cybersecurity well underway, you might be mistaken for thinking that this progress is an absolute positive. But for some of the older generations, it’s a hindrance.
As expected, 99 percent of the ‘digitally native’ 18 to 24-year-olds use the Internet at home, compared to 73 percent of the over-65s. The majority of over-65s are classified as ‘narrow’ internet users, which means they only use the Internet for a few activities and aren’t fully competent. This large portion of the older generation, with little to no internet access or experience, has given rise to a worsening issue around lacking digital inclusion in the UK.
What Is Digital Inclusion?
The impact of generational differences on digital inclusion rates is getting worse. But before diving into the reasons why digital inclusion is even an issue in a supposedly developed economy like the UK, it’s first important to define what it actually means.
There are several facets that make up what it means to be digitally included. On one hand, there’s physical inclusion, which refers to physical access to the Internet, be it through broadband, Wi-Fi, or mobile connectivity, and access to devices and services that enable internet connection. A lack of access to devices and services could be down to many reasons, including affordability and a lack of assistive technology.
On the other hand, digital inclusion refers to having the right digital skills and awareness to get connected. This includes the knowledge, confidence, and motivation to use the Internet.
All of these issues disproportionately affect the older generation, particularly the digital skills shortages. According to Lloyds Bank’s Essential Digital Skills Report, despite 80 percent of over-65s having access to the Internet, only 61 percent have foundational digital skills — things like opening an application, logging into an account, and connecting to a Wi-Fi network. So even when internet access is available, it doesn’t guarantee digital inclusion.
The Impact of Exclusion
It’s critical to understand why we should fight for generational digital inclusion. The Internet is a hugely valuable tool that undeniably has a positive impact on people’s lives. It helps to alleviate loneliness and social isolation, improve the availability of jobs and education, and offer access to more financial advice and government services.
With so many beneficial services appearing online, and some even going online-only, the Internet’s role in society is becoming more and more prevalent. And this especially rings true in a post-COVID society. Throughout the lockdown, the Internet was as essential for practical tasks like banking, shopping, and finding information as it was for communication and following hobbies and interests. And for 80 percent of people, it was a vital support system, according to the Good Things Foundation.
So, it’s hard to not be online nowadays. Those without access often find themselves relying on others to complete internet-based tasks for them — known as proxy use. Ofcom reported that half of all non-users had to ask someone else to do an internet-based task for them. The most common requests were to make a purchase and access public services and healthcare.
All these requests are essential, and not being able to do them will negatively impact a person’s quality of life. Take healthcare as an example. Over 40 million people visit the NHS website each month to get information, and advice and access services like appointment bookings and repeat prescriptions. As health information is increasingly digitalized, there’s a risk that internet non-users will be excluded from these services, which will ultimately impact their well-being.
Fighting for Inclusion
Digital inclusion of the older generation, therefore, needs to be made a priority. And this seems to be the sentiment of the general UK population too. As the users of the internet continue to grow, access will become more and more essential, and 61 percent of adults agree that internet access should be seen as an essential utility — the same as gas, electricity, and water.
Getting the older generation connected involves making internet connectivity more accessible. That’s why it is absolutely vital that infrastructure plans like delivering Gigabit-speed broadband nationwide by 2030 are met. While some government support is allocated to connected areas not reached by the commercial market, the large majority of affordable internet access must come from private investment.
But it’s more than just access. Digital skills need to be addressed urgently. Every community in the UK needs a place where people can go to get help with digital skills, from the very basics to the more advanced. Educating older people on the benefits of internet access, and why it’s important to have a basic skill set, will be essential to the increasingly digital nature of our society.
Digital inclusion of every age is becoming increasingly essential. But it’s more than just that. In some ways, digital inclusion is becoming synonymous with social inclusion — ensuring that everyone, regardless of age, is guaranteed equality of opportunity. While there’s no single, simple solution, boosting access and knowledge of digital tools and will certainly help and not hinder the problem.
About MS3 Networks
MS3 is a fibre network operator based in the Kingston-upon-Hull area with plans to pass over 500,000 homes and businesses with full-fibre. As a wholesale-only provider, MS3 will enable its existing and future ISP clients to provide up to 10Gb connections to end-customers, building on their existing fibre ring through Hull and to more than 30 other locations in the region.
MS3’s high quality infrastructure enables our wholesale partners to provide futureproof connectivity options including gigabit broadband, ethernet and dark fibre services to homes and businesses.
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