The European Commission today presented to the European Council a new initiative to include marginalised citizens in the digital society. The initiative could generate benefits of €35-€85bn over five years, it has been claimed.
Despite technological progress and enhanced competition, more than one in three Europeans are still excluded from fully benefiting from the digital society, a statistic the e-Inclusion initiative hopes to change. The initiative encompasses an awareness campaign for 2008 and legislation to encourage digital access is also being considered.
“In today’s society, access to information by all citizens is a right as well as a condition for prosperity. It is neither morally acceptable nor economically sustainable to leave millions of people behind, unable to use information and communications technologies to their advantage,” said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media.
“With today’s initiative, the commission reinforces its commitment to overcoming digital exclusion in Europe. Progress has been only half as fast as it should be. The commission is today sending a clear signal to all parties concerned – industry, regulators and governments – that we must act together now to ensure a barrier-free information society for all.”
In 2006, EU ministers committed themselves to halving the gaps in internet use and digital literacy and to achieve 100pc accessibility of public websites by 2010.
Progress on these targets has been fragmented and slow, and most of those outlined in 2006 will not be met in time. Only 10pc of people over 64 in the EU are internet users, with the European average for the general population being 47pc. Without further intervention, this gap would not be halved until 2015 instead of 2010.
The latest assessments conducted for the commission showed that accessibility of websites, communication terminals, TV sets and other ICT remains problematic, with lower-educated, economically inactive and elderly people at the greatest risk of being left behind.
The European initiative presented today sets out a strategic framework to: enable everyone to take part in the information society by bridging the accessibility, broadband and competence gaps; accelerate effective participation of those at risk of exclusion, and improve their quality of life; and integrate e-inclusion actions in Europe, and so maximise their lasting impact.
By Niall Byrne
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