Government announces £10m package to deliver online service to deprived communities from the end of 2001
The Government has announced a £10m Wired Communities pilot project to wire up some of England's most deprived communities, writes Mike Simons.
The pilot will involve cabling up both tower blocks and some rural areas in an effort to assess how best to deliver online services to disadvantaged communities.
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Michael Wills, minister for learning and technology, unveiled the proposals at the recent Local Government Association conference, Tomorrow's Socially Excluded.
"The risk of a digital divide is real. Just 18% of those in low socio-economic groups have a computer at home, compared to 65% of those in the upper groups," he said. "The recent Policy Action Team report highlighted the danger of excluding people when health, banking, government, education and job services are increasingly available online."
Wills held out a vision of new technology helping everyone from the community worker finding out about government services online and the teacher tapping into databases "full of tips", to the elderly using the Internet to cut "the burden of heavy shopping bags".
However, pilot projects and concerned speeches might not be enough to achieve Wills's aims.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he wants every person in Britain to have access to the Internet by 2005. The Wired Communities pilot projects will be installed and running from the end of 2001.
That does not leave long to get consumer uptake for the project, let alone evaluate the results and apply the lessons.
Wills insisted, "Government alone cannot bridge the gap - that is why we are looking to the private sector to work with us in wiring-up disadvantaged communities."
The £10m for the Wired Communities project comes from the Government's £2.7bn Capital Modernisation Fund, which was created to support investment in improving public services. Given Blair's commitments to e-government, it can't be long before local authority IT managers, community projects and partnership organisations are demanding more.
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