Note of the Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Digital Participation held on Wednesday 30 May 2012.
The meeting was convened by Willie Coffey MSP.
The first presentation came from Fiona Ballantyne of the Communications Consumer Panel. They had completed some new research they had done to address their concerns that the number of people who do not use the internet regularly is underestimated. The figures suggest that 22% or 11 million people do not use the internet at home. The study looked at non, lapsed, proxy and narrow use and what the barriers are to engagement with the online world.
Two key issues came through:
- The ‘gravitational pull of the offline world; things working well/good enough for people and;
- The fear of technology and its complexity.
The report also looked at drivers such as peer pressure to be online and not to be left behind and the effect of family and friends as mentors. It was thought that other issues could be addressed such as clear definitions of what take up means within Government strategies and targets. Clearer, ‘non-technical’ language in marketing campaigns, many are littered with online references such ‘IT’, ‘@’ and ‘on’. Low cost and low risk equipment would help reduce the cost barriers to new adopters as well as new tactics to appeal to those who are not pre-disposed to going online.
WC thanked FB for her presentation and referred to a video clip she had played of some participants of the study in Glasgow. He asked if their experience and responses were typical of the wider study or something specific to Glasgow. FB replied that there appeared to be a stronger polarisation in Glasgow, possibly something to do with the critical mass not being there and therefore reduced effect of peer pressure however there is no silver bullet for this problem. A member mentioned a study done at Inverclyde Library that also concluded friends and family could act as strong mentors to those new to the online experience, he also felt that the library worked well as a non-scholastic environment especially for those who may have had a poor learning experience. There was also a study in Drumchapel in Glasgow looking at the role of the school in developing IT and information literacy skills. Another member asked about the substitution of mobile internet access. FB replied that the study had looked at use in general rather than the means; she said that in Glasgow it had been difficult to find young people with absolutely no experience although it was not thought that the issue of non-engagement was confined to any particular age group. A member wondered that very constrained use in school might not be showing younger people the full benefits of the internet. There was a question about how Scotland compares internationally. Although international comparisons are made via the International Telecommunication Union, Ofcom’s International Communications Market Report and the World Internet Study, it was not thought that Scotland was often separated from the UK figure if at all. A member pointed out Glasgow’s unique characteristics, only one in ten people work and life expectancy is very low and asked if these types of issues may also be at play. FB agreed that it was definitely a complex area and that it merited further research.
The next speakers were Evelyn McDowall and Margaret Moore of Glasgow Housing Association. At GHA they had questioned the digital experience of their tenants and felt that the recommendations made by the Consumer Panel in their earlier presentation were chiming with their experience on the ground. GHA’s objective is not just to provide better home but to recognise the need for better lives for their tenants and it is here that digital inclusion has a huge role. Choice is not readily available to many tenants who remain digitally excluded through connection issues and affordability issues. They are aware of the benefits of being online. GHA conduct a regular satisfaction survey of tenants and included some questions on their online experience.
- 37% claimed to use the internet at least weekly by any means
- Usage is predominantly in the 16-44 year age group, however;
- 90% of over 65’s in GHA homes do not use the internet
- 72% of tenants with a disability do not use the internet
- Use is higher amongst BME and Black tenants at 61% and 70% respectively
GHA set a target to connect 30 000 homes and aimed to procure broadband at affordable prices, an engagement strategy while they developed their online service offer. 30% of the housing stocks are multi-storey units. Their customers are seen as high risk due to levels of bad debt and frequent address changes. Barriers to them are credit check processes and the need for a bank account for payment. Many of their customers simply do not qualify. The traditional approach offers no flexibility or innovative thinking to enable access to this social group and there seems to be regulatory barriers to developing a Pay-As-You-Go option that reflects this more chaotic lifestyle.
The procurement did not bring the solution that GHA felt was right for them and their customers. All the technical solutions offered were landline based and monthly charges were prohibitive. A mobile solution might have suited the client group better with WiFi enabling device choice. The industry itself is at a technical juncture with 4G technology and devices waiting to be released to the market. In reviewing the procurement GHA plan to look at breaking down their housing stick and client groups to make them more serviceable. They still have the ambition of providing connectivity to their customers.
WC thanked GHA for their presentation and said that it certainly helped to build a clearer picture. A member said that work was being done by Edinburgh University looking at models for delivering broadband in areas of multiple deprivation. They were working with the Thistle Foundation in Craigmillar. He suggested one technical solution was to build a local area network for a number of houses which is quite a common model in Sweden. Another member pointed out that there might be legal issues with becoming effectively an ISP. It was thought that Glasgow City Council were seeking to make Glasgow a wireless city, although their recent bid for superfast broadband fusing via BDUK has been unsuccessful it seems to have galvanised a range of discussions and the council are preparing a digital Glasgow strategy. EM replied that the wireless city concept would be welcomed by GHA and they would utilise it if it came to fruition. With regard to taking the responsibilities that come along with being an ISP, the question for GHA is, if no one else is willing to engage with their client group they may as an organisation have no other choice than to accept it.
A member said that GHA had a stock not only of multi-storey dwellings but also of good infrastructure for mobile signals. Perhaps there was an arrangement to be made with network operators to exchange antennae space for connectivity for their tenants. MM confirmed that there are a number of ways do this however the single supplier for infrastructure and service seems not to be ideal. The central issue is what is actually affordable for tenants.
The final presentation of the evening came from Chris Seely of The Wise Group, a social enterprise with 250 employees based in the East End of Glasgow. In 2010 Wise Group placed 5,500 people in work. They see access to and proper use of technology as critical to their objectives around employability. They approach the problem on four fronts:
- Access (affordability)
Taking infrastructure and kit first, although mobile access extends a degree of device choice, smartphones offer a very narrow view of engagement, literally via a small screen but they also do not give people the work ready skills they need, many heavily used packages such as Word and HTML5 are not available. A smartphone is also not available for family use, denying the potentially powerful effect of family and friend mentors. In terms of infrastructure Glasgow has some very good infrastructure and although the race for superfast broadband infrastructure has some key economic advantages, its value in the low and non user groups is not immediately obvious. Low and new users do not require very fast speeds; they are not seeking the latest and greatest technologies.
Wise Group has a proposal to develop an ICT re-use facility that would be underpinned by a work/skills programme to offer training and skills. Re-using and redeploying equipment is cheaper than recycling it.
Home access is key; the library is not a solution for everyone. Some are intimidated by the environment and a fear of failure. At home people can get used to the equipment, play and build their own confidence. The barrier to home access is affordability. Credit checks and the more expensive PAYG solutions come with higher set up costs and higher charges for data usage. For someone on a fixed income of Job Seekers Allowance of £71 a week, £30 to get online is a very large proportion of that income.
Another programme Wise Group has developed is a cloud computing service which is offered to the Third sector. They have 14 organisations engaged and strong ties with Microsoft. They are also looking at building a Centre of Excellence for not for profit organisations with readily available resources.
WC thanked CS for his presentation and opened the floor to questions. A member mentioned an example in Forth Valley where the experience was that if you gave people an easy to use device with a connection they will embrace it. Another member agreed that he had seen a transformation of an older neighbour who had got an iPad and had become converted virtually overnight. One issue was raised about infrastructure which in general is good in Glasgow but not universally so. In some parts large areas are served via copper and a single exchange giving them speeds that are not that good. The member felt that even a short wait for loading would put new users off the technology, those with more experience are more likely to wait because they know it’s not faulty, just slow. A member suggested that infrastructure issues were not always to blame, network shaping by operators and very high contention rates can contribute to slow speeds.
WC thanked members for their contributions and the presenters for their presentations. Douglas White of the Carnegie UK Trust had asked if he could address members. Via their work on wellbeing across the UK, Carnegie UK seeks to contribute to the debate on social policy issues. The debate around take up and digital inclusion is such an area and they are seeking to do a quantitative survey about reasons for it and any potential drivers to improve the issues. They hope to quantify the relative strength and weakness of drivers and barriers, see how they rate against each other in the city of Glasgow and also amongst different socioeconomic groups. They are keen to hear from members to help formulate the questions. Any thoughts or feedback should be forwarded to Douglas at Douglas@carnegieuk.org
The next meeting is due to be held in September.
The meeting was closed.