New research from Ofcom shows that despite the pandemic serving to shrink the digital divide in the UK, around 6% of homes still do not have access to the internet
At this point, the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is driving digitalisation is well accepted by the telecoms world. From the ubiquity of Zoom calls to the lockdown-imposed work from home, connectivity has become central to our personal and private lives over the last year.
But while for some this rapid switch to a more online lifestyle has merely been an acceleration of a pre-existing trend, for others it has left them completely isolated. The limitations imposed by the digital divide have never been starker and, despite improvements, people around the world continue to b digitally excluded.
Today, a new report from Ofcom has shown that, while the pandemic has brought a new appreciation for connectivity, around 1.5 million homes in the UK remain unconnected to the internet.
In the past year, from March 2020 to March 2021, the number of homes without access to the internet has fallen from 11% to 6%, but this final single-digit percentage may be the hardest yet to bring online. The Ofcom study suggests that this 6% is primarily composed of those over than 65, lower income households and the most financially vulnerable people in the UK. Around half of those half of adults who remain offline say they find the internet too complicated, or it holds no interest for them, while a lack of suitable equipment was the barrier for a third of respondents.
Nonetheless, the near necessity of the internet is apparent, with six in ten responders saying they had asked someone else to do something online on their behalf in the last year, with the most common task being purchasing something online.
“For many people, lockdown will leave a lasting legacy of improved online access and better digital understanding. But for a significant minority of adults and children, it’s only served to intensify the digital divide,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Strategy and Research Group Director. “We’ll continue to work with Government and other partner organisations to promote digital literacy and ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds are empowered to share in the benefits of the internet.”
While access to the internet is improving rapidly in the UK, there clearly remains work to be done, not only in making the technology accessible, but also in the development of the UK public’s digital skillset allowing them to get the most from participating in the online word.
“Regardless of the delivery mechanism, it is essential that all strata of society can access the most appropriate local service, including those that may need some financial assistance in doing so,” commented Emmanuel Vella, VP, EMEA Broadband Networks at CommScope. "It is critical that everyone across the country has the same access to the opportunities brought about by broadband connectivity, and closing the digital divide will be a vital step in facilitating the delivery of a wide range of services and applications to improve business efficiency and productivity – as well as enhancing everyday lives across all areas in the UK.”
What steps must be taken to eliminate the digital divide in the UK? Find out how the experts approach this challenge at this year’s live Connected Britain event