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Government urged to take responsibility for improving internet access

Thursday, January 15th 2015 by Hannah Langston

The government should be solely responsible for getting the digitally excluded online, according to BSkyB-owned wi-fi provider The Cloud.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, commercial director Roger Matthews said it was up to central and local government departments to provide laptops and tablets so people can access the internet in public places.

When asked if there was a role for wi-fi providers and ISPs in teaching the skills people need to get online, Mr Matthews said: “What we’ve endeavored to do is to make our service and getting online as simple as possible.

“When you look at educating the population at getting online and providing devices where people can actually get online I think that must be more for the government organisations."

He added: “61% of people use smartphones in the UK, that will only rise but the concern is for the small minority who don’t have that technical education or access to devices.

“I think that rests on the government to provide that service.”

The Cloud provides free wi-fi access in libraries, railway stations and coffee shops. Mr Matthews said most users have their own devices so that can access the internet in other locations as well.

“The exceptions to those are universities and also libraries. I know a number of devices – iPads or PCs – are made available for public use and I expect these people don’t have internet at home and use the library to access the internet,” he said.

Digital by default

According to figures from digital skills charity the Tinder Foundation, just under 20% of the UK population do not currently access the internet. Despite this, the government’s ‘digital by default’ programme will see 100% of public services moved online over the next few years.

Commenting on the government's plan, Mr Matthews said: “I think the onus is probably on the government to make sure that people can actually get access to the services made available that way.

He highlighted training sessions as key to educating consumers: “My parents have been on schemes on how to use the internet and they’ve benefited from those – I don’t think they were free as they did them five or six years ago – but I’m sure once you hit a certain age you can get access to content on how you can get online and how to do it safely and access the information you want.”

Mr Matthews' comments come as a new study by network provider Fujitsu found that over a fifth of UK consumers will always opt for a digital-first approach, when a digital service is offered. Local (24%) and, to a lesser extent, central government (20%) were named as the two sectors that must improve quickly to remain relevant.

“While Britain is on the right path for digital greatness, the message here is clear – education is essential," Neil Crockett, CEO of not-for-profit research centre Digital Catapult said.

"For Britain to become truly 'digital by default' organisations from the Government to private organisation bodies, must work together to ensure digital inclusion is a reality for all.”

Image courtesy of Gabbyly

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