Yesterday, I took a half-day off daddy day-care duties to appear on a panel at Digital Engagement.

Paul Clarke has begun a hatchet job on the event itself. Let’s just say it was an eclectic mix of topics and I didn’t exactly get to share many blinding insights from my world, but just before our panel, Helen Milner from UK online centres kicked off her talk with a slide distinguishing digital inclusion from digital engagement:

Digital inclusion: getting offline people online

Digital engagement: helping online people to do the things they want and need to

It’s an important difference.

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As ever when Helen’s usual presentation is rolled out I feel obliged to counteract the slide which states ‘People are more important than Pipes’.
To enable true digital engagement, digital inclusion or any effin digital participation these days it is essential to have pipes which can deliver what is needed, to all the people, of any age or social status, anywhere.
The people should be enabled to join in with government sites, games, social media, education and health care sites et al. They should have access to as much bandwidth as they need for work, play or information, and as much as they are prepared to pay for. Just like any other utility.
Nobody in their right mind would say that any ‘thing’ is more important than people. People are the most important thing in the whole world. But regarding digital engagement and inclusion they are treated as second class citizens, told that they are going to have ‘high speed world class broadband’ by our illustrious leader at TED and delivered third rate broadband through copper by a telco determined to milk the last dregs of profit from a victorian network before handing it back to the state to upgrade.
A few more stats for people who like them:
90% of the UK land mass can’t get 2 meg connections. They are too far from exchanges.
This area contains the 40% of the UK population which will never be profitable to run next gen to. Therefore BT won’t. They will grab government money and bond copper pairs to protect the copper cabal. This exercise is called BET. To do it they will have to run new copper because rural areas are on DACS. To run new copper will cost more than fibre. They don’t care, govt is paying and it protects their monopoly on the infrastructure that is throttling the economy, and the PEOPLE of this country.
end of rant.

Funny, you must be getting to me Chris, ‘cos when I saw Helen flash that one up, I thought of you 🙂

I don’t know what I think on that one. You’re right, it’s self-evident that people come first, and to be fair, you can do a lot on a fairly narrow connection (though when I go ‘home’ to my parents’ ropey old semi-rural phone line, I’m reminded of the yawning gap). So imagine the transformative technologies and consequent cultural changes that could happen if we all had access to superfast broadband, wherever we happen to live.

Thanks for the digital divide reminder Steph. But when I was last talking about this with ppl, and we were being gloomy about access, small proportion of folk using a computer at work etc, someone in the group mentioned mobile – (well, nearly) everyone has one.

Does Helen’s material factor this in – stats, prospects, etc.? The current received wisdom (I think) is that phones are being made smarter, fairly rapidly, and this hold out prospects of enhanced access for lots more folk – is this so?

Some re-framing needed, perhaps (both digiacc and digieng)?
Just a thought,

Peter, mobile can never bridge the gap. It is a fantastic thing to encourage, as when away from base it can help people to keep in touch, but again, in rural areas it just doesn’t work. Neither does satellite in some places. The digital divide won’t go away unless something is done to get fat pipe access. The fibre runs right through our fields, but access (POP)is in the nearest cities. The telcos should be ‘encouraged’ to open the pipes and let us in. If that happened it would enable the JFDI crew to lay fibre themselves. Or even use wifi from the feed until fibre can be laid. There are lots of ways to skin a cat, but currently nobody seems to care about the rurals. Pipes to rurals would make a lot of People very happy. And productive. And reduce the carbon footprint. And stimulate investment, innovation and enterprise in the countryside. What people seem to forget is that 90% of the country is too far from exchanges to have decent connections, and that this is where the food is produced, the water is stored, and it is what sustains the whole country. The people living there need broadband just the same as the important urban dwellers or the ‘disadvantaged’ urban poor. The rurals are on average 12k a year wages. I think that classes them as poor too. Decent, affordable ubiquitous broadband is a utility that will help them tremendously, in the same way electricity saved them sewing by candlelight and carting water from wells. They could generate their own electric from rivers, and pipe water with pumps, but they can’t make fat pipes.
o hell. sorry. didn’t mean to go off on one again…