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Digital divide becoming chasm, research reveals

Work on bridging the gap has stalled

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Movement on the digital divide has stalled with only marginally more people online today than three years ago.

UK online centres, managed by the University for Industry, have issued a report which says that bridging the digital divide is the responsibility of the public, private, and third sector working together.

Conducted in association with researchers FreshMinds, Understanding digital inclusion is claimed to be the first report that comprehensively maps the correlation between digital and social exclusion. It reveals that three in four people counted as socially excluded are also digitally excluded in not having convenient access to the internet.

These people are missing out on the opportunities, choices, savings, and services that computers and the internet provide. Neither government policy, market forces, nor demographic trends are making any significant inroads to bring more people online, the report finds.

"Technology is opening new doors and new worlds for 61 per cent of the population, connecting them to better paid jobs, instant information, new forms of communication and social interaction, community infrastructure, government services, consumer power, and convenience," commented UK online centres managing director Helen Milner. "But for a stable 39 per cent, those benefits remain firmly out of reach. And it's unacceptable those already at a disadvantage are three times more likely to be the ones missing out."

The research, which has already informed the government's upcoming digital strategy review, brings together information from more than 80 sources, including research into digital skills, ICT usage, and internet penetration from the Office of National Statistics, Ofcom, the Oxford Internet Institute, and government departments.

Milner welcomed the creation of the new Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, because of the emphasis it places on adult skills, but stressed the importance of cross-sector partnership. "The public, private, and third sectors must work together in order to affect the level and pace of change now needed to achieve digital inclusion," she said.

"This research gives us both the information and opportunity to make a significant difference to the digital divide. Let's make sure those who stand to benefit most from technology are not left behind."

The research will be officially launched at a parliamentary reception on 10 July. It will be available to download from the same date.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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