Broadband is essential

Third Sector, 3 March 2009

Government targets for digital inclusion should make charities sit up and listen, says Damian Radcliffe

The Government recently published an interim report on the Digital Britain initiative, its project “to secure the UK’s place at the forefront of innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications industries”.

Digital Britain is based on the belief that the digital economy can outperform the rest of the market in terms of providing jobs, developing skills and generating income. The report contains more than 20 recommendations, including eye-catching proposals for “universal broadband connectivity” – getting every household online and using broadband by 2012. There are hurdles to overcome to realise this ambition, not least those of supply (some areas currently can’t get broadband at the 2Mbps speed the report recommends in order to upload and download information efficiently) and demand (only 59 per cent of households currently have broadband).

However, the Government clearly feels these obstacles are surmountable, so charities need to consider what this might mean for them. The year 2012 is not that far away. In its simplest sense, the challenge can be broken into three areas: content, visibility and digital literacy skills.

If 100 per cent of homes have broadband, old media consumption will continue to decline. A strong online presence will therefore become even more important than it already is.

It’s no use having great content if nobody knows who you are, so make sure people can find you through internet search engines and that your site is easy to navigate. Good branding, design and a recognisable online profile matter if you want your organisation to stand out.

Charities should also ensure that their staff and, in many cases, beneficiaries have the skills and knowledge to benefit from a fully digital Britain. No doubt the BBC, government, schools and others will all play a role in developing these skills, but many people will inevitably be self-taught. Charities should therefore encourage their staff to follow them on a digital journey so that the whole organisation is in a position to understand and benefit from the potential of universal broadband. Those who don’t risk being left behind.

George W Bush once asked: “Will the highways on the internet become more few?” That’s a difficult one to answer, but the direction of traffic is clear. Where we’re going we don’t need roads, but it looks like we’re all going to need broadband. So buckle up and get ready for the ride.

– Damian Radcliffe is the manager for English regions at Ofcom and writes in a personal capacity

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