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Tuesday, August 17, 1999 Published at 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK

UK: Scotland

Scotland grasps Internet thistle

Scotland's presence on the Internet is increasing

BBC Scotland's David Calder looks at the way the Internet is influencing the lives of people in Scotland in practically every way imaginable.

The Internet is changing all our lives - the way we work, the way we learn, the way we buy goods and services. The digital revolution is gathering pace and Scots cannot afford to be left behind.

However, there are some worrying trends which concern Scottish Enterprise and the Internet Society.

There are no firm figures about how quickly the Internet is being adopted but all the evidence points to our lagging behind the rest of the UK.

[ image:
"No excuse" for ignoring technology
In business, there is the fear of the unknown and worry about cost. By far the majority of Scots firms are small or medium-sized. Relatively few are on the World Wide Web.

Many believe, wrongly, that the Internet will not affect them. But very soon, they will have no excuse for not adopting the new technology.

Frank Binnie of the Internet Society points out: "The price of computers and of access to the Internet is falling rapidly.

"The cost of training and Web design is also now easily affordable. The danger comes from not having a presence."

There are however encouraging changes which could alter everything.

Digital Generation

A new generation is coming from schools, sometimes called the Digital Generation, which takes this technology for granted. This group is growing all the time.

According to consultants KPMG, they are already Web consumers with annual spending of more than £400m.

In West Lothian, the cable company Telewest pioneered its e-cademy project, helping to put schools online.

[ image: Computers play a huge part in education]
Computers play a huge part in education
Edinburgh is now developing one of the most advanced, high-tech education systems in the UK, perhaps the the world, with the introduction of a comprehensive schools network.

More than 50,000 teachers and pupils are being linked together, each with their own e-mail address.

Each one has unlimited access to the Internet and access to all the academic resources it has to offer.

The children are much more comfortable about the new technologies than their parents. And they also want access to it at home.

That is not always available or affordable. But here again, changes are taking place, especially in the range of ways the Internet can be delivered.

Throughout Scotland, the cable company NTL is rolling out Web-enabled television.

Phone access

As the company's Scottish Managing Director, Frank Cullen, explains, it is "...a great boost for Internet access, moving it into the living room and opening up the advantage of the Web without the need for a PC".

And shortly, all the user will need will be a mobile phone. A growing range of portable, handheld equipment is being Web-enabled.

[ image: Technology must be
Technology must be "inclusive"
The latest Nokia phones, unveiled only two weeks ago in Edinburgh, are Internet-ready and can communicate at the speed of the fastest domestic modem.

This raises interesting possiblities. There is currently an explosion of interest in "Web-casting", putting radio stations on the Web so they can be heard anywhere in the world.

In future, this may end up being the normal way in which radio is received, through an Internet-ready mobile.

In the view of Frank Binnie at the Internet Society, these will be the changes which really alter our view of how the use the Internet.

"Within 3-5 years," he says, "every household will have access in the Living Room. Surfing the Web will just be one additional channel on the TV.

"The world's retailers will be available as one great shopping channel. Scots business will have to be up there too."

Technology 'right'

But the new Scottish Government is aware that the Internet has to be socially inclusive.

People in less affluent areas like Craigmillar in Edinburgh or Castlemilk in Glasgow have as much right to this new technology as anyone else.

[ image: Public acceptance is vital]
Public acceptance is vital
Andy MacDonald, of the Craigmillar Community Information Service, is leading the way.

"We can't just leave it to the digeratti, the middle-class information haves with PCs at home.

"IT is for all our futures and we need to encourage people of all ages and abilities across the threshold of the information society."

His projects have won a plethora of awards including several from Europe and is now being adopted in other parts of Scotland.

CCIS remains at the forefront of the digital revolution. At the start of the year, it became one of the first European-funded "teleports", a multi-media technology centre complete with video conferencing for community use.

The wider public adoption of the Internet should help to convince Scottish businesses that they too should accept the Web as a sales and marketing tool.

National consultation

The low take-up rate has convinced Scottish Enterprise that it needs to act, offering a lead to the corporate community.

The organisation has already embarked on a national consultation so that an e-commerce strategy can be put in place by the end of September.

Scottish Enterprise's Robin Mair says: "Those who don't adapt and use this technology may not have a business at all very soon. These are fundamental tools for the successful companies of tomorrow."

Let us know what you think of our Scotland news section. E-mail us with your views.

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