Benefits of Super-fast broadband

Ofcom have published research into the benefits that next generation broadband could bring to older and disabled people to help promote independent living.

Examples include:

  • remote health monitoring and consultations
  • mentoring and befriending schemes
  • teleworking
  • life-long learning initiatives

Technology such as this should help promote independent living; health, learning, work and other social issues are mentioned frequently within the report: Next Generation Services for Older and Disabled People (pdf).

This technology will open the door to numerous beneficial applications and when realised fully in the years to come will change many people’s lives. However, it’s imperative that media and digital literacy awareness among the target group is maintained so they can benefit when it arrives.

Great resources can be found on the web such as this A- Z of computing by AgeUK; which is a good starter at any age. Hopefully, such resources will continue to evolve as technology advances and new devices and applications emerge.

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Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2010

In August, Ofcom released their annual Communications Market Report for Northern Ireland and followed it with a discussion panel event last week. As you would expect the report is detailed with an abundant supply of statistics relating to NI’s progress in communications services.

Here are a few key points:

  • A third of people in Northern Ireland use social networking sites (similar to UK average)
  • One in six people in Northern Ireland access health information online (lower than UK average)
  • Broadband take-up in Northern Ireland has reached 70% (similar to UK average)
  • 3G take-up is below the UK average and lowest among the nations

The latter point is rather disappointing, given the increase in internet enabled devices such as smart phones, and would suggest a reliance on the home and work for internet access. Could this be explained by limited and/or lower quality coverage? This point and a few similar issues were raised at the discussion panel, especially the impact it was having on rural areas and the great potential for a digital divide.  The Alan in Belfast blog has a good account of this discussion. However, the report does recognise this as a wider problem, so we in NI are not alone:

…people who live in rural locations throughout the UK … are less likely to have access to super-fast broadband, a 3G phone signal, and to have a choice of suppliers through their local fixed telephony exchange. Our research shows that the average broadband speed delivered to premises in rural locations are typically lower than in urban areas; that fixed-line take-up is often higher; and that households are less likely in rural areas to take communications services in bundles.
The Communications Market Report 2010 (pdf)

Elsewhere in the report the MyGroupNI web portal is recognised in its capacity as a digital inclusion initiative bringing together the public, voluntary and private sectors and supporting 3500 community groups across NI. In 2009/2010 it received 25 million hits and 10 million page impressions from 1.8 million visitors (this initiative is supported by Department of Finance and Personnel for NI).

What does this report mean for Media Literacy and Digital Inclusion?

Well, we are moving in the right direction and in most areas maintaining pace with the other nations. However, you are left with the impression that more could be done, both in terms of media literacy/digital inclusion awareness and infrastructure in rural areas, if everyone is to benefit from being online and we as a nation make our contribution to Martha Lane Fox’s RaceOnline 2012 goal. What are your thoughts?