Research released this week by UK regulator Ofcom shows that 13 per cent of Britons have no interest in using broadband, even if it was free. Industry analyst Ovum said this underlined the challenge facing governments keen to connect the nation, and highlighted why digital strategies should address demand as well as supply issues.
Coalition working and grassroots activity from non-technical players will be key to any efforts to bring these reluctant users on board – higher penetration rates for broadband access in certain regions highlight the importance of local buy-in. Charlie Davies, principal analyst at advisory and consulting firm Ovum, comments further…
It’s unfair to expect the market to deliver
Ofcom’s research echoes similar findings by Ovum on why people still aren’t hooked up to broadband despite increased availability and lower prices (see the report “Bridging the digital divide in developed markets”). Broadband growth to date has been driven primarily by the market, with companies unsurprisingly focusing on those segments that require the least marketing and bring in the highest returns. This 13 per cent (which equates to a not insignificant 7.9 million potential users in the UK) are the most costly and financially unattractive customers.
Notwithstanding increased corporate and social responsibility (CSR) activity primarily from incumbents that are still, for many older customers, the de facto fixed communications provider, it is unrealistic to expect commercial companies to take on this considerable challenge alone, and nor is it the best solution.
The value of trusted advocates
Broadband uptake is higher overall for households with children. The majority of those with no interest in broadband are the elderly who no longer have children at home. However, children remain a vital resource in helping to drive uptake in this group. A key driver for the elderly to take up new innovations is family education, where children and grandchildren can cajole, persuade and educate them of the benefits of accessing broadband Internet. Additionally, many of the elderly become keen Internet enthusiasts when they are hooked up as they realise the vast wealth of information and services available on the Web, particularly for those with limited mobility.
Encouraging these known and trusted Internet advocates to more actively engage with the reluctant users that they know can be done either informally or formally. For example, informally through encouraging social clubs to demonstrate content that users would find interesting (researching family trees has been a hit pastime for elderly users), or more formally through schools organising “bring your grandparents to school days” where the elderly are given hands-on help in the presence of their grandchildren. However, both of these strategies suggest that local involvement will have greater impact than any large, national initiative.
Ambitious regions are paving the way for higher adoption
Our research on regional initiatives for extending basic and high-speed broadband availability and uptake contains a significant message for government efforts focused on connecting these hard-to-win groups. Regions with an active digital strategy supported at both an executive and community level are showing higher broadband and ICT uptake. The Manche region in Northern France now has 75 per cent PC penetration and 70 per cent broadband penetration – higher than the national average. In Sweden, municipal FTTH/B efforts have achieved penetration rates of up to 90 per cent in more rural areas. In both cases, these areas contain a higher percentage of elderly residents compared to larger urban centres.
However, these efforts have taken years of painstaking planning and lobbying activity, and rely on considerable grassroots support from communities that are able – in a far more tangible way – to spread the word to elderly residents. They are also dependent on political support and efficient mechanisms for gaining funding. Discussions on the pros and cons of different models for further broadband rollout and adoption should take into account both the achievements of these approaches and the timescales involved.