I’m probably going to write a lot of reflections on Can’t Get Online Week. This is the first, relatively immediate reaction.
Last week, I drove more than 1300 miles visiting communities that struggle to get internet connections and feel cut off from the modern world. I started off in the New Forest and reached north Northumberland, before turning south to finish the week in Yorkshire, where I live. But what did I learn, apart from the fact that England is a big country? Well, I think there were a number of main lessons:
- The tipping point has come – no one thinks internet access is not essential any more;
- Poor connectivity can be an accident of economics as well as geography. Some less remote communities struggle through lack of investment in connectivity infrastructure because they have traditionally not been seen as lucrative markets;
- There are very many communities where the maximum achievable connectivity through landlines is 0.5Mbps, and still more where it is much worse;
- There is very little awareness in many communities of the County Broadband Plans being drawn up by local authorities and their partners; and, where there is awareness, people either cannot afford to wait for them to work their way through, or don’t believe they will ever reach their communities;
- People are suffering NOW from poor connectivity. Young people are failing in school through not being able to do online homework; business people are having to maintain expensive urban properties to get connectivity; villages are being depopulated; and property prices are falling;
- many rural communities know nothing about the successes of their counterparts elsewhere in taking their own steps to improve connectivity because the only available source of information is online, and they cannot access it.
Here’s A.J. whose education is directly suffering through poor broadband. He will not get a second chance at his school days
And Steve Clarke, in Essex, was typical of the business people I met who are having real problems
But, I am an optimist, and what I am really optimistic about, following Can’t Get Online Week, is community spirit. At some of the events I convened, their were neighbours who had never spoken to each other before, who not only started a dialogue, drawn together by their mutual lack of broadband, but finished the meeting vowing to work together to do something about it. I think lack of broadband can be a galvanising issue for community spirit, and I hope I have been able to play a small part in planting a few sparks to that end.
We need to do something about this issue, and it needs to be done quickly before the urban / rural divide gets wider. If you can help me with practical action, then please get in touch with me by any of the methods here.
In the run up to Can’t Get Online Week, I appeared on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, Radio 5 Live’s “Outriders” and was interviewed by the Guardian and the Huddersfield Examiner. During the week, I appeared on BBC Radio Norfolk, BBC Radio Lancashire, Stray FM, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC TV’s “Look North”, and an online video for “Farmers’ Weekly”. Can’t Get Online Week was featured in countless local papers and specialist publications.
Can’t Get Online Week secured the support of Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville, and was tweeted about by Stephen Fry.
I have a model now (following on from Twicket, the world’s first live broadcast of a village cricket match) for using Social Media campaigns to raise the profile of issues and campaigns to national, regional and local prominence. Please contact me if you’d like me to do the same for you.