Skip to main content
The Great Digital Deficit

Almost three years ago, I wrote a feature for The Observer, ‘Welcome to the aftermath of the old economy’ and in it I asked if it was possible to solve the challenge of the so-called ‘Digital Divide’ in the time the government imagined was possible.



Since then of course, we’ve witnessed some remarkable changes. My local post-office in London is now crammed wall-to-wall with young South Africans picking-up their Hotmail but my home town in Kent ninety miles away, still hasn’t a PC in sight although its Iraqi population has swollen significantly over the last twelve months. Broadband here is no closer than Baghdad, which last week opened its first Internet Café, ahead of BT, which promises to upgrade the local exchange once the weapons inspectors have left this quiet seaside town.

But a country has to start somewhere and government generously funded the expansion of six thousand UK Online Centres in an effort to guarantee Internet access for the fifty million or so people who can’t find it elsewhere. Funding these centres has cost £370 million to date and since the Prime Minister enthused about the programme at the eSummit in November, I’ve been wondering how long government could afford to fund the programme. After all, PCs in a public access environment aren’t likely to last long, so what happens when the next technology refit is demanded in eighteen months?

It appears that the National Audit Office (NAO) has been asking the same questions and The New Opportunities Fund (NOF) has stated that “Lottery money is unlikely to be a source of future revenue funding for UK Online centres, as this money is intended to be used for specific, one-off, interventions that are time-limited”.

In fact, the report by the NAO states "Moreover, some of those centres most placed to reach disadvantaged target groups are likely to be least able to find funds from elsewhere". It continues: "If UK Online centres are forced to close, it is not clear whether there will be sufficient resources available to set up a replacement in the vicinity".

Unfortunately, not only is the programme expensive but there’s very limited information on who is actually using the services provided, which leaves us with 6000, very expensive UK Online centres to be maintained and a digital deficit of around forty million citizens, a gap which is unlikely to be closed without, in my estimation, another £500 million being injected over the next five years.

There is I suspect very little hope of government being able to find this kind of money without the rest of us feeling more pain than that which year will already bring us in higher taxes, so it rather begs the question, is the UK Online initiative sustainable within some kind of public private sector partnership?

In the cities and larger towns, where businesses are more likely to afford some kind of sponsorship, then maybe. But in those areas where the UK Online concept is most needed, it may, as the NAO fears, risk becoming like other, more essential services, a brand more characterised by its absence than its evidence and a monument to the indivisibility of the so-called digital divide.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.


In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Nature of Nurture?

Recently, I found myself in a fascinating four-way Twitter exchange, with Professor Adam Rutherford and two other science-minded friends The subject, frequently regarded as a delicate one, genetics and whether there could exist an unknown but contributory genetic factor(s) or influences in determining what we broadly understand or misunderstand as human intelligence.

I won’t discuss this subject in any great detail here, being completely unqualified to do so, but I’ll point you at the document we were discussing, and Rutherford’s excellent new book, ‘A Brief History of Everyone.”

What had sparked my own interest was the story of my own grandfather, Edmond Greville; unless you are an expert on the history of French cinema, you are unlikely to have ever hear of him but he still enjoys an almost cult-like following for his work, half a century after his death.

I've been enjoying the series "Genius" on National Geographic about the life of Albert Einstein. The four of us ha…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…