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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Push to win over net 'refuseniks'
Founders of ADI
The founders of ADI have challenges ahead
Businesses and charities have joined forces to end the UK's digital divide.

It follows recommendations from the government in a report into the state of the digital divide in Britain.

The report, Enabling a Digitally United Kingdom, says that nearly half of the adult population in the UK is what it describes as digitally disengaged.

The Alliance for Digital Inclusion has been charged with finding ways of persuading the 48% of refuseniks to use the net and other new technologies.

Improve lives

The alliance is led by the charity Citizens Online and founders include BT, AOL, Microsoft and Intel.

The government report identifies the groups at most at risk of becoming farther excluded.

Wheelchair users in front of computers
Important that all groups in society use technology
This includes older people, those from lower socio-economic groups, the unemployed and the disabled.

Speaking at the launch of the ADI, Minister for the Cabinet Office Ruth Kelly shared some of the reports findings.

"We need to develop a much better understanding of context - how people live their lives and how people can use technologies to improve their lives," she said.

"For older people, the integration of electronic and traditional health and social services may be a driver for digital take-up. And for people from lower socio-economic groups, education, housing and employment represent potential powerful drivers for digital take-up," she said.

New approach

The ADI will work on providing schemes to promote usage of the internet and other digital technologies, a lot of which will draw on existing successes across the UK.

The solution is not getting everyone a PC. The starting point has to be to get people motivated
John Fisher, Citizens Online
"Bridging the digital divide is a fundamental issue for the UK to tackle," said John Fisher, chief executive of Citizens Online.

"It is not about re-inventing something as many of the solutions now exist. The government has already spent millions but it has been a bit dysfunctional and scattered around and the task now is to join it up," he told BBC News Online.

"The solution is not getting everyone a PC. The starting point has to be to get people motivated."

The government has recently scrapped the office of e-Envoy, which was charged with driving digital take-up, as it concentrates on creating new online content and streamlining the use of technology within Whitehall.

Challenges ahead

Mr Fisher acknowledges that the ADI has taken up much of the e-Envoy's remit and he is convinced it can do a better job than government.

"We can do the joining-up role much more effectively," he said.

There are big challenges ahead for the alliance.

In order to drive change in policy, it will need a single point of contact within government - something which it currently does not have as the digital divide responsibility is shared between government departments.

There are also question marks over the future of the 6,000 UK Online centres which exist to provide internet access and informal training for those who do not have it at home.

Funding for them is coming to an end and the ADI is already working on ways to ensure that they can remain in use.

Reaching out

On the positive side, there are plenty of schemes up and running in communities that have made a positive difference to individuals.

Workability, run by the charity Leonard Cheshire and supported by Microsoft, provides disabled unemployed people with skills needed to get a job.

Intel has teamed up with the Great Western Hospital in Swindon to install equipment throughout the hospital to enable patients and visitors can take advantage of technology, including a kiosk with a digital camera for new mums to share pictures of their babies.

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