[Hpn] Net access for all in UK is prime minister Blair's aim FWD
Fri, 15 Sep 2000 18:56:46 -0700 (PDT)
Could "Universal Access to the Internet" help to "change the relations of
power" or help to "narrow the rich-poor gap" globally - or in your nation?
Has "Internet Activism" thus far helped to "redistribute power and wealth"
or helped to "reduce poverty and homelessness"? If so, please cite
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FWD BBC News Online - UK Politics - Monday, 11 September, 2000
BLAIR'S NET PROMISE
[Photo Caption] Tony Blair wants everyone to have net access
The prime minister is preparing to explain the government's ambitious plans
for providing internet access to everyone in the UK within five years.
He is expected to detail exactly how he intends to help everyone from
football fans to the homeless get online.
"Universal internet access has to be available to all."
-- Tony Blair
He has already pledged to see the entire population using the web within
It is a grand aim - and a series of measures has already been put in place
Government critics will be watching Mr Blair's speech at a hi-tech company
in Loughborough on Monday for whether the initiatives are new - or the
so-called "recycling of announcements" of which New Labour has often been
*Digital divide dilemma*
Mr Blair's ambition is driven both by his belief in the power of the
internet to change lives and by a desire to end the social "digital divide".
Official figures show that people's earnings still strongly govern whether
they are able to log on.
[Photo Caption] Every school has been promised high-speed net access
Among the lowest income groups, net access is only around 3% to 6%, while
48% of higher-income households are online.
Regional differences also dictate levels of internet access, with London
and the South East leading the way.
Back in March, Mr Blair told a joint CBI, TUC and government conference:
"It is likely that the internet, in time, will become as ubiquitous as
electricity is today.
"The knowledge economy must be an economy for the many and not the few.
Universal internet access has to be available to all."
The government's plans to aid internet access were revealed at Labour's
first party conference after gaining power, when Mr Blair promised a
computer in every classroom by 2002.
The "National Grid for Learning" scheme, costing £700m, involved giving
cash to local authorities to connect schools to the internet and provide
support for teachers.
And public libraries received almost £3m for information technology
projects, mostly in deprived urban communities or rural areas.
Last November, the grid scheme won a boost when ministers unveiled a £50m
programme of high-speed links, using broadband technology. It meant schools
and other learning institutions would benefit from faster access to the
At the same time, a new website called the Learning and Work Bank was
announced, allowing job-seekers to view at a glance hundreds of thousands
of vacancies from job centres and recruitment agencies around the UK.
Terminals would be installed in employment centres, shopping centres,
libraries and even pubs, Education Secretary David Blunkett promised.
*Socialising the net*
Then, nine months ago, the government announced a raft of intiatives aiming
to take the internet revolution to the socially excluded.
The promises included:
** Making 100,000 recycled computers available to people who would
otherwise not be able to access the internet. The computers would be leased
** Creating 1,000 Learn Direct centres in sports clubs, pubs and churches
by the end of 2001, at a cost of £252m.
** Providing 100% of public services online by the end of 2008.
** Upgrading the way in which the government itself provided information
online, with new guidelines instructing departments to prove their
"openness and responsiveness" through the information provided on the net.
** Guaranteeing all government websites could be accessed by the blind
using voice technology.
Just as these government initiatives were making headlines, NHS Direct
Online was launched, allowing web users to check medical symptoms and
Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney admitted online opportunities had
been missed in the past, but pledged the UK would be at the forefront of
the internet revolution.
Mr Blair said he believed the internet would change the way people behaved
socially, as well as transform business dealings.
*Job-seeking in the pub*
Three months later, in March this year, the government set out a series of
further suggestions aimed at closing the gap between technology haves and
have-nots in the UK.
A report, called Closing the Digital Divide, said people in all deprived
urban areas should have access to computers, the internet, e-mail and other
emerging information and communication technologies.
The fresh recommendations included:
** Setting up internet points in places where people feel at ease, such as
pubs, community centres, post offices and bus and train stations.
** The provision of technology to help people with transport difficulties
do their shopping and make use of government services and healthcare.
** And the government promised to give every job-seeker a voucher for free
computer training, worth about £400 each.
Ministers' latest plans to extend internet use include offering tax breaks
to companies willing to lend computers to employees, and offering new web
users 80% discounts on basic IT courses.
However, the government's plans were dealt a blow when e-envoy Alex Allan
quit after less than a year in the job, for personal reasons, leaving
ministers with no-one in charge of its internet technology strategy.
An open competition to find a successor will be launched in a couple of
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