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Addressing the Digital Divide 1 July 2004

The Treasury’s E-Business Division has announced a series of coordinated initiatives to ensure that as many of the Island’s residents as possible are able to benefit from the benefits and opportunities associated with information technology.

A review completed by Charteris, as part of their 3 Year E-Business Strategy Review revealed that in comparison to most other jurisdictions, the Island’s population is relatively well connected. The 2001 Isle of Man Census Report for instance, revealed that over 50% of Isle of Man households have access to and make regular use of the Internet. However, even though just over 50% have access, just under 50% do not.

Government has been keen to ensure that a “digital divide” does not open up on the Island. A Digital Divide is generally defined as the shortfall in opportunities experienced by those with limited access to technology, especially the Internet, when compared to the opportunities enjoyed by those with comprehensive access to technology. Accessibility challenges include economic (eg. Can’t afford), educational (eg. Don’t have skills), physical (eg. Have a disability which restricts access), geographic (eg. Don’t have infrastructure to access), social (eg. Don’t have confidence or encouragement to access).

A wide range of on Island individuals, charitable and voluntary organisations, community groups, Government Departments etc were interviewed as part of the research exercise. The main findings of the Charteris Report include:

  • There is a strong appetite on the Island to embrace technology
  • A lot of good work has already taken place to reduce the Digital Divide
  • The main digitally disadvantaged groups on the island are the elderly, those receiving benefits, the disabled, people living in certain specific rural areas and people working in small businesses.
  • The main reasons that people are digitally disadvantaged on the Island are cost of access, fear of technology, lack of need, lack of understanding of benefits and lack of skills.

In response to the findings of the Charteris Report, Government has adopted the strategic aim to provide all members of the Island’s community who wish to participate in the Information Age with equality of opportunity to access, learn about, and exploit PC and Internet technology.

Under pinning this strategic aim, Government has adopted the following 12 point policy plan:

  • To adopt a pro-active, pragmatic, cost effective, step-by-step, coordinated overall approach to tackling the digital divide.
  • To encourage free broadband access at public internet access points located in all towns, villages, sea and air terminals on the Isle of Man (ie. Douglas, Ramsey, Peel, Castletown, Port Erin, Port St. Mary, Laxey and Onchan).
  • To continue to provide a grant to any individual or business to cover the installation cost of broadband.
  • To support the take-up of technology and establishment of computer drop-in centres by charities and community groups.
  • To encourage the business community to continue to support the community and voluntary sector with technology assistance and subsidy.
  • To conduct promotional campaigns to increase awareness of the benefits of, and dispel fears about, technology, and to encourage its use.
  • To increase the availability of the DTI “Internet For Beginners Course”.
  • To provide skilled support staff (or volunteers) at public internet access points and community and charity drop-in centres.
  • To provide more ICT skills training and support for small businesses.
  • To provide a more joined up approach to formal ICT skills training and e-Learning for those not seeking employment.
  • To maximise ICT opportunities for people with disabilities.
  • To grow the Isle of Man on-line community.

The following areas for specific action have been accepted, budgeted for and are to be implemented as soon as possible:

  1. Pilot opening of primary schools – This initiative will open up Internet facilities at 2 pilot primary schools. The facilities will be made available to the general public free of charge on a drop-in basis for a couple of hours (e.g. 6-8p.m.) one evening per week for a whole term. These sessions will be supervised by a teacher, supported by a student assistant.
  2. Increased provision of the DTI’s “Internet For Beginners” course – The DTI has agreed to run 24 of these courses over the next 12 months (compared with the 10-12 that have been run in previous years). It is anticipated that about 8 of these courses will run during the working day (i.e. 9a.m.-5p.m.) to target those people unable to attend the evening or Saturday morning sessions currently provided. As previously these courses will run at the Training Centre in Douglas and at Commissioners Offices in Ramsey, Peel and Castletown.
  3. Pilot use of the proposed new Laxey Incubator facility for training purposes – The hot-desking area of the new facility will have 6 DTI PCs available for training purposes in the evening. It is proposed that these facilities be exploited on a once a week basis (e.g. 6-8p.m.) for a pilot period of 2 months to run extensions to the DTI’s “Internet for Beginners” course. The services of 2 DTI Business Support Consultants will facilitate the training.
  4. Prompting the dropping of charges for Internet usage at Public Libraries – The DOLGE on behalf of the Treasury has been in contact with a number of Local Authorities to encourage them to drop their charges and so remove cost as a barrier to access. The proposal does not involve removing other controls such as the time allowed on a computer.

In addition the Public Lottery Trustees have confirmed that they will continue to consider applications from eligible organisations for assistance towards the cost of computer equipment.

Director of E-Business Tim Craine has been driving this project forward and will be responsible for ensuring that the recommendations are implemented.

Tim Craine said:

"The Digital Divide report confirms that “a lot of good work has already taken place (by Government) to reduce the digital divide” The recommendations in the report will help to make sure that the good work to date is taken to the next level so as to guarantee that everyone on the Island at least has the opportunity to take advantage of this new technology.”

Donald Gelling MLC, the Treasury Member with responsibility for e-business said:

“The very positive Government response to the recommendations will address the majority of the remaining barriers to access” This is an excellent example of Government working in a joined up way to ensure a coordinated delivery to our community.”

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