In a move reminiscent of Finland’s intention of making internet access a legal right, the UK Government’s new digital champion Martha Lane Fox has written a manifesto aiming to get the 10 million Britons who have never used the internet to be online by 2015.
The manifesto, entitled Race Online 2012, is part of a campaign backed by 400 partners to have 1.5 million more people in the UK online by the end of the Olympic year.
Today, she outlined a plan that will get the 10 million people who don’t access the internet to do so by 2015. Already, 40 million people in the UK use the web.
Lane Fox, who co-founded the internet site Lastminute.com, is being supported in her campaign by the Cabinet Office in her role of advising and challenging the government, the wider public sector and industry on making faster progress on getting more people and services online.
Lane Fox has realised what most progressive nations should: the economic benefits of being online cannot be ignored and that – to paraphrase our own Sean Lemass – a rising digital tide lifts all boats.
Free laptops and broadband for children
Traces of this sentiment could be seen last year under an ambitious plan by the previous UK Government led by Gordon Brown to provide free laptops and broadband to children who qualified for school dinners. The rationale was sublime – these children would not suffer from a digital divide and if they had unemployed parents and those parents could use the laptops to seek employment.
According to Lane Fox, her manifesto is a rallying cry to create a truly networked nation and the “Race Online 2012” campaign reflects the reality that the internet is an invaluable tool in helping to manage difficult personal circumstances.
“This will be an Olympic legacy that will benefit all of us. The 10 million people in the UK who have never been online are already missing out on big consumer savings, access to information and education. They will be even more isolated and disadvantaged as government and industry expand ever faster into digital-only services. We must change the mindset from the one that shields people from using the internet to one that helps empower them to get online and enjoy all the benefits.”
Services via technology
The truly interesting words in this are “digital only” – progressive governments see the provision of services to citizens as essential, but affordable, via technology. Countries like Ireland, where more and more cost-cutting in the public sector is inevitable, need to see that investing in ICT and providing services digitally will lead to savings in the long run.
“We cannot wait for new technology solutions or for better and faster infrastructure,” Lane Fox said. “We need to recycle and join up our existing infrastructure and exploit the assets and the skills that we already have.
“We need to be ambitious, ‘think internet first’ when we design services, and put the needs of the hardest to reach at the heart of industry, charity and government. There is a social and moral case to make sure more people are online but there is a clear economic case, too. We will all be better off when everyone is online,” she said.