Are mobile devices the key to digital inclusion?

Are mobile devices the key to digital inclusion?

The main motivations for people to connect to the internet are: shopping (the UK ranks first in the EU for E-commerce), finding a job, connecting socially, and engaging with Government services… so nothing too important then!

The ever increasing importance of the internet – and the increasing cost, either to the individual or the State, of being offline has led to an expectation that everybody is or should be online. However, a research report recently published by Plum Consulting (and commissioned by EE) estimates that around 7.4 million people are still offline. 86% of which are aged over 55.

There are several reasons why around 11% of the UK population isn’t online: lack of skills, cost issues, lack of access, and lack of interest or motivation. Aside from the economic reasons to get people online (Independent analysts Booz and Co. estimate that full digital take up could add £63 billion value to the UK economy), digital inclusion initiatives could contribute to reducing social exclusion.

Government funding programmes to get the “digitally excluded??? online have however historically focused around the use of PCs and fixed broadband, while internet consumption is actually increasingly dependent on mobile connectivity. So are mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones the key to enable people to live more digitally inclusive lives?

The Plum report, and the Communication Chambers report published in July 2014 (commissioned by Vodafone) “Mobile: A powerful tool for Digital Inclusion“ suggest that mobile devices can and should play a key role in motivating people to participate in online activities.

This week, Vodafone published in collaboration with Tinder Foundation a follow-up report “Mobile: Helping to close the Digital Divide???. The six-month study was carried out in collaboration with 17 local partners from the Tinder Foundation online centres networks. 62 people were selected because of their very limited digital skills and experience and because they met at least one social criterion of exclusion. They were given a tablet, smartphone or WIFI hotspot.78% of those who took part in the project found that tabled or smartphone loaned to them was more intuitive to use than traditional PCs. 70% of this group felt that mobile devices had costs advantages for them over fixed broadband.

The report authors call for Government policy changes, in particular a reorientation of digital inclusion programmes towards mobile, the inclusion of tablets and smartphones in online training, incentives to extend the mobile broadband network and the improvement of the accessibility of Government services on mobile devices.

Mobile devices do tend to be more intuitive so it seems to make sense that they offer a lower barrier to getting people online. Just as we advocate for technology neutrality maybe we should consider device/platform neutrality for digital inclusion.