New consortium to boost digital tech usage

Thursday, October 15 2009, 12:37 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

Ofcom has today launched a new consortium to increase the depth and reach of digital technology usage in the UK through effective information and support.

Led by Ofcom chairman Colette Bowe and Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms, the consortium will explore ways to encourage a broader range of people to access digital communication technology in their daily lives.

According to Ofcom figures for adult media literacy since 2007, internet takeup among people aged 65 or over grew from 26% to 41% during the past two years, with the amount of online low-income households increasing from 35% to 51%. However, this is still very low compared to the current UK average for online adults of 73%.

First mooted in the Digital Britain report back in June, membership of the consortium will be open to any organisation prepared to use its communication channels to boost digital participation.

Commenting on the launch, Timms said: "The benefits to being online - access to online health, financial, recruitment and communication services - can significantly enhance a person's quality of life both economically and socially.

"I am pleased to be part of the consortium for the promotion of digital participation which will lead this project to ensure all the UK can enjoy the benefits of the internet for a brighter digital future."

The move has been broadly welcomed by the communications industry, with BT chief executive Ian Livingston describing it as a "great opportunity to achieve a more inclusive Digital Britain by working together".

As the BBC is directly involved in the consortium, the corporation's director-general Mark Thompson said: "Media literacy as part of the wider programme of digital participation is key to the BBC's public purposes. Helping more of the population get connected to the internet is a major goal for the BBC, and as a trusted brand with the audience, we will use our content across a variety of platforms to help encourage that takeup."

Channel 4 director of future media & technology Jon Gisby added: "It is impossible to overestimate the impact that digital technologies have on our everyday lives, particularly how we engage and consume information and media.

"We are delighted to be part of the consortium and believe that working as a group we can ensure that everybody has access to the opportunities offered by a multimedia world."

Also welcoming the launch, Sky director of public affairs David Wheeldon commented: "Greater access to digital communications will play a major part in driving the UK's economic performance in the coming years and will bring significant benefits to the whole of society.

"At Sky, we are excited about the opportunities brought by the digital revolution and are working hard to ensure that customers not only get access to high-quality, great value services, but that they can do so easily and safely."

The consortium forms part of a series of projects aimed at increasing digital participation, including the launch of Race Online 2012 this week by the government's technology tsar Martha Lane Fox.

The BBC will further open its Online Access Forum on October 16 and Ofcom will fully support the UK Online Centre's Get Online Day on October 23.