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I do not agree with Bill Dutton that all those not using the Internet are uninterested. The social deprivation and exclusion which may well lie behind the non use is also probably reflecting inability as much as unwillingness to engage. At the Open University we see some of this in our outreach and widening participation work with ethnic communities where social and cultural factors have precluded them from studying and/or using PCs and the internet but structured and supported programmes have overcome both these issues. It is mindset and confidence as much as accees and affordability that plays a part in 'uninterest'. But creating and nurturing that hopefully latent interest costs a lot of money and especially staff time and so I echo your own comment that while online services may meet most people needs a number will always need intensive face to face support if they are not to be left out altogether.

Thank you for your comments on our report and press coverage. The digital divide is based on both exclusion, driven by socioeconomic and geographical circumstances, and self-exclusion, which is what I mean by digital choice. My criticism of Digital Britain is its emphasis on new infrastructures, which moves attention away from shaping choices by the uninterested, or self-excluded, as well as dealing with the excluded. However, I would not give up on the non-users. Instead, I would try to understand and deal with the barriers to their involvement. I am fully in support of efforts to change the beliefs and attitudes of those who have not experienced the Internet, and are skeptical of its value. For example, I'm delighted that the UK government has appointed a 'Digital Champion' - but she has a huge task as an evangelist and facilitator.

You do not need to imagine a day when electronic media replace pen and paper to see that those who have experience and skills in using the Internet and related ICTs are advantaged. Put another way, those offline are disadvantaged, such as a small business that can not possibly compete in a digital world unless staff are digitally literate and online.

Giving up on the non-users is even more worrisome than waiting for them to pass away. But putting more wires and fibre in the ground is not going to solve the problem.

Thanks again, Bill Dutton

PS: Ellen Helsper, Monica Gerber, David Sutcliffe, Kunika Kono, and other OII staff are responsible for the clear tables and exemplary design. I'll pass on your compliment.

Two issues strike me.

1. The uptake and spread of all personal and family technologies (from bicycles, to the fridge, to the radio, to mobile phones) is driven by the "life-changing" utility of the devices. As far as I know there was no need for classes or government campaigns to promote their uptake. So, if Government wants to help alter the behaviour of the self-excluded, a good place to start is provision - by Government and its proxies - of useful services using the Internet (and through mobile phones, whose interfaces with the Internet are improving fast). Hence the point of, say, putting a Google Translate button onto Government or Local Authority or school or NHS web sites.

2. Access to the Internet is like access to clean water - you need it to function in a developed economy. So pipework matters. Digital Britain's emphasis on a 2 MB/s Universal Service Obligation is right (as well as being overdue). In impoverished urban areas a challenge is the lack of credit-worthiness (which prevents people from having fixed line phones or cable connections), for which reason public WiFi, and improved 3G coverage (with changed tariffs for accessing it, including pay-as-you-go) are both important. From what I could make of it, Digital Britain does not discuss lack of credit-worthiness, focusing exclusively in the section on the Universal Service Obligation (paragraphs 32 to 42) on technical infrastructure.

At UK online centres we've done some research very recently that really echoes the brilliant OII report. We found 55% of non-users of the internet were 'excluded' by perceived barriers - lack of time, money, access and skills. The remaining 45% were 'rejectors', who didn't see the point of the internet, or its relevance to their lives. While internet users tended to rate their quality of life higher than non-users, rejectors were more contented than their excluded non-user counterparts with their lot and with their current ways of doing things. Notably there was one specific area where rejectors wavered, and that was employment - a sign of the times. Internet users were a full 25% more likely to feel confident about their ability to do and find work than non-users.

I agree with nearly all in all of the above posts. Yes good infrastructures and good access are part of tackling the digital divide, but the other parts - not so well resourced in Digital Britain but equally important for digital inclusion - are skills, confidence and motivation. In monetary terms, I make it £200m a year on infrastructure, and £12 over three years on inclusion. That doesn't quite seem to add up, does it? Whether the 15 million off-line are voluntary or non-voluntary, their non-use will hold Britain back from Carter's digital vision. Likewise their inclusion can help drive it forwards.

The good news, however, is that last week digital inclusion made it big in mainstream politics for the first time. I've been waiting years to hear its name mentioned in the House of Commons, and see digi inc research and debate in the national media. One of the most encouraging developments last week, largely buried in the Digital Britain hype, was Estelle Morris' review of digital life skills. The other was the appointment of Martha Lane Fox as Champion for digital inclusion. Like William I want to see the people vs pipes balance redressed, and I think Estelle and Martha might be the women for the job. I'm certainly looking forward to working with Martha as a member of the Digital Inclusion Taskforce supporting her Champion role.

Helen Milner

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