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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Digital divide? Why it doesn't add up to a big problem

It's not worth fretting about those without internet access...
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The key questions to ask are whether those without internet access are significantly disadvantaged and whether GDP suffers as a resultPhoto: Shutterstock

Written in a coffee shop in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and dispatched to silicon.com via a free 19Mbps wi-fi link.

What should a society worry about? People out of work, the growing legions of the uneducated, the closure of libraries, inflation, rising heating bills, road deaths, gambling, drug addiction, those who cannot drive a car, or the percentage of people not accessing the net?

I've just read a report from Oxford University detailing the growth of internet usage in the UK. The shock-horror headline is that 27 per cent of the population still doesn't use the internet, which is in stark contrast to the ITU 2010 report that gave a figure of 17.5 per cent.

It seems there's some significant doubt here, because other sources and surveys also give a different range of figures - for example, the Office for National Statistics puts household internet access at 77 per cent.

But whatever the true figure, all these reports raise one big question: should we worry about internet usage or just shrug our shoulders and walk away?

Looking at the availability of public computing facilities, computer courses, low-cost equipment, free software and insignificant connectivity charges plus free access, might it just be that these people simply have no interest or inclination to get online?

After all, large numbers of people don't buy newspapers or gamble on horses either.

According to the Oxford University report, about 44 per cent of the population regularly access the web using PCs, tablets, laptops and smartphones. Other reports put this number as high as 60 per cent.

The Oxford report also finds that next-generation users are also inclined to be active producers of content rather than passive users. Hmm - no surprise there then.

It seems to me the key questions to ask are whether the disconnected 27 per cent will be significantly disadvantaged and will GDP suffer as a result.

Undoubtedly the answers have to be...

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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