January 29, 2009

Britain's 100% Broadband by 2012 - but wires aren't the whole problem

The whole country will be connected to the web in 2012 via high speed broadband if Lord Carter's recommendations, released partly today and concluded in late Spring, are taken up. Given our current politique of grand public works to keep the country moving and the view that broadband infrastructure is as important as road and train infrastructure, it seems likely that this will happen.

The hope is that the digital divide will be broken down this way. The reality is that the very real and current digital divide is less finance-based and more to do with other complex often education-related issues, issues that are often linked to standards of living in general in socially deprived areas. The research tells us that people not online at the moment make this choice based on a belief that there is nothing of interest to them. For most people already online this is patently not true. The challenges for this die-hard digitally secluded group are

a) knowing how to find relevant, engaging and entertaining material
The traditional television schedule works on the basis that you will be somewhat 'forced' to bump into content you would otherwise not choose to watch. Take tonight's schedule on one Channel, chosen at random ;-) You start off with the non-partisan Channel 4 News, bump into the often partisan docs of Unreported World or 3 Minute Wonder, bump into a light and frothy Million Pound Home In The Sun before a hard-hitting, full-of-sweary words, public service hour of Jamie Oliver making sure we buy sustainable meat sausages. You don't have to work too hard to find interesting material that you wouldn't normally have sought out - all you need is an initial hook and then the schedulers work hard to keep you.

This, of course, is being somewhat eroded by the EPG, which could offer around 600 choices every thirty minutes, but also offers a way to personalise your TV schedule into stuff you know you want to watch.

Take it to the web, where there are billions of choices every second, constantly changing, and you hit a new problem. Understanding the tools is harder than understanding how an EPG works. Knowing what you want in the first place is a start, but websites are designed to keep you on one piece of content - theirs - and that content is often more narrowly defined than a TV schedule. For example, you are reading this education blog, or you are reading about the creative industries in Scotland and Northern Ireland, or you are reading about travel - but more often than not you're not necessarily bumping in on completely new content, merely different angles on the same content. This is, I think, why nearly all of the top content websites are rehashed versions of television, newspaper or magazine type sites, all of which carry ever-changing focuses and recycle your traffic, helping you bump into new and unexpected content. Think: all social networking sites, YouTube, the NYT, the Guardian... think Google.

b) knowing how to navigate and read off the screen
6% of adults can't read to the level expected of an 11 year old. One in five Scots has trouble with reading and numbers. This means that you can expect somewhere between 6-20% of folk to have trouble using the internet on that basis alone, followed by an aging population who lack much targeted content (because currently there is no market for it - only 16% or so of over-65s are online).

Laying cable alone will not make a difference to these groups. Schools' continued efforts to raise the media literacy flag's importance against a lot of other more sexy technology policies are required for tomorrow's generations. A lot more is required, though, to work with those who, for the next 40+ years are not in school, and not online.

At Channel 4's 4iP we announced last week that we would be venturing into this very territory, with Talk About Local:

Talk About Local will train several thousand people in 150 disadvantaged places in England to set up locality/community/neighbourhood based websites.  The project will use UK online centres as its delivery backbone.  Talk About Local will catalyse an online resource and community for people publishing neighbourhood or community websites, so that people can help each other.

Talk About Local is about giving people skills and empowering communities.  The project will empower active citizens who already have a burning need to communicate as they campaign for cleaner streets, better schools, activities for young people or put on local arts or organise a village fete.  Talk About Local will give these citizens the basic skills to communicate online more effectively and at less cost than using traditional means.  By networking citizens together, they will be able support each other in their local activism, as well as on technical publishing issues.  This will lead to stronger more effective community action.

Media Literacy is not just about learning how to use the net for the sake of it. The net is fundamentally a tool of and for democracy, to allow people to discover information, challenge authority and be entertained and educated. Talk About Local is one of the many projects 4iP will be commissioning over the next two years or so to make a dent in this huge task, with nearly all the ideas for tackling it coming from the very population it serves - you.

What are you going to do this week to make the web feel more worthwhile to folk in your community? What are you going to do to challenge those who block, filter and avoid the media literacy issue for the sake of expediency or, worse, ignorance? We've got till 2012 to answer. Your time starts... now.

Read the full Carter Report   |   Pic: I hate networking


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Ewan, one of the other issues is that many people can't afford to have a fixed copper line from (BT line rental is approx. £10+ per month) plus the cost of the broadband plan.

Why didn't Carter promote naked DSL which is being rolled out in Australia by several providers(http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/10/12/1191696156893.html) Then so long as you have a copepr line, you don't even need it connected as a telephone to get your ADSL - a saving of £120 per year which makes a big difference.

Rolling out Broadband is all well and good but there also needs to be a push for digital literacy. The computer is a tool for research, review, revision, collaboration and presentation. Most of what you need to do this comes with MS Office. Wo9uld the education world would concentrate on using the computer as a tool rather than a way to replace the skills of a teacher

Gary - the internet's about a lot more than research, review etc etc... It's also about entertainment, great content.... much more than Microsoft Office can provide!

As a web developer this is good news, too many people are disconnected from the realities of the 21st century. The internet is a huge, and yet still growing medium for advertising, research, learning, entertainment, and almost anything is possible with it, there is even talk of the world becoming almost wholly connected to the internet, with domestic appliances such as fridges, television sets etc being assigned an IP address, with the vision being that you can operate these devices remotely, for instance, turning off your lights at home from your work desk.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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