Being digitally connected started as a luxury, but now it’s a way of life. Technology allows us to access online services, communicate with family and friends and take up a wider range of opportunities. Couple this with the UK Government’s commitment to ‘Digital by Default,’ meaning that many services and information will only available through the internet, and having access to a decent connection becomes essential.
However, the risk of exclusion from the online world is not just about the speed of internet or about having access to computers or tablets. People can also be excluded by the cost of accessing a broadband service or through not perceiving any benefit from getting online or knowing how to use the services. For some, access to online services will be through the mobile phone network and this too remains patchy in rural areas.
The UK may have more internet users than any other EU country, but 1 in 5 adults still don’t have the basic online skills to benefit from the web. That’s 9.5 million people across the UK aged 15 and over. Fast, reliable broadband and mobile coverage is essential for homes throughout the country to benefit from online services, and for UK businesses to compete globally. Lack of access to broadband and mobile coverage can lead to increased social and economic disadvantage and is exacerbated in rural communities by the remoteness from those services.
The ACRE Network is playing a significant role by supporting those who are potentially disadvantaged in rural areas. They are also helping in the roll-out of superfast broadband by engaging with local partnerships, assisting local community initiatives to widen access and developing local digital skills initiatives.