Fox And Cameron Announce Bid To Get The Poor Online


Digital champion Martha Lane Fox and Prime Minister David Cameron plan to get the poorer elements of society off expensive paper-based services

Entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox has announced plans to deal with the digital divide, helping the government get poorer citizens online – and saving millions on paper-based access to government services.

Entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox was appointed as the UK’s “Digital Champion” by the coalition government in June. Despite a statement from the government that made no mention of her previous appointment, Fox actually held the position under the previous administration for over a year.

The latest push to get around ten million of the UK’s poorest households online was announced with the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron. According to the PM, the Networked Nation programme will help bring the benefits of the web to those who cannot or are reluctant to access the net. “In the internet age, we need to ensure that people aren’t being left behind as more and more services and business move online,” he said.

Digital Inclusion

But as well as the social benefits of providing universal broadband access, Cameron was also keen to point out the economic benefits of being able to deliver more government services via the web and cut down on bureaucracy and government jobs. “But this issue isn’t just about fairness – as Martha’s work shows, promoting digital inclusion is essential for a dynamic modern economy and can help to make government more efficient and effective,” he said.

Fox also echoed the PM’s pragmatic take on the potential of the web to cut government costs.  “By getting more people online, everyone wins,” she said. “ Businesses are competing for more online customers. Government needs to deliver better for less.”

The “Manifesto For A Networked Nation” states that there are 10 million adults in the UK who have never used the internet. “Four million of those are among the most disadvantaged: 39 percent are over 65, 38 percent are unemployed and 19 percent are families with children.”

The manifesto states, citing figures from PWC, that the economic benefits of getting everyone in the UK online could be in excess of £22 billion. The report states that the government wants to get “millions more online by 2012”.

But despite the government’s commitment to closing the digital divide, it is still not clear where the funding will come from to develop the UK’s broadband infrastructure which is behind many countries in Europe.

Digital Switchover

In the budget last month, Chancellor George Osborne said that delivering faster broadband would be the responsibility of the private sector, with some help from leftover money which had been been put aside to fund the switchover to digital TV, and from the BBC licence fee. He confirmed the abolition of the previous government’s 50p-per-month broadband levy, which had been dropped by the Labour government in the closing days of the last parliament.

Fox was first appointed to the Digital Champion role in June 2010 by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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