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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 April, 2005, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Digital divisions tackled head-on
Power plug, BBC
Broadband is growing faster than mains power did
A seven-point plan to tackle Britain's "digital divide" has been unveiled by the government.

It will try to remove barriers such as cost, lack of training and confidence that keep some people off the internet.

The plan involves a scheme to lease computers to pupils so they can access web-based teaching materials at home.

Another project will see a "digital challenge" prize awarded to the local authority which shows how the internet changes the way it works with citizens.

Net education

Announcing the action plan Patricia Hewitt, the UK Trade and Industry Secretary, said that some groups in Britain were not getting the benefits of being online.

Some could not afford a computer or net access fees, did not feel the net was relevant to them, or they lacked the skills and confidence to use it.

1) Digital Challenge prize for local authorities giving universal online access to services
2) Creation of a scheme to rent laptops and PCs to students under national scheme
3) Combat online dangers through work with hi-tech industry and police and establish national net safety centre
4) Expand UK Online centres that help adult learners get to grips with the web
5) Encourage creation of content for broadband services through government and public bodies
6) Make sure central government embraces ways of using net to deliver services
7) Ofcom to see how to encourage broadband take-up in poorer homes
One concrete goal for the plan was to ensure that all secondary school pupils, especially those from poorer families, had access to a computer.

Regulator Ofcom has also been asked to look at ways to ensure poorer homes have access to faster net services.

At the same time the government is going to ensure schools and colleges make better use of the web for educational materials.

Pupils will get online webspace to store work and access materials.

Ms Hewitt said the initiative was launched "to make sure our nation as a whole is at ease with the online world".

The UK's digital divide has arisen despite the fact that soon high-speed net services will be available to 99% of the population and prices for services are coming down as take-up rose.

She said that the rate of take up for broadband was exceeding adoption rates for mains electricity, colour TV and mobile phones when they first appeared.

As well as setting up a low-cost scheme to get PCs and laptops to school pupils, the government was also planning work to help disabled people get more out of the web.

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