Mobile access could solve digital exclusion

Greater awareness of the means and relatively low cost of mobile access to the internet, and more mobile-friendly digital public services could solve the UK’s problem with digital exclusion, says a new briefing from Socitm.

Rapid growth of mobile: the long-term answer to digital exclusion? quotes ONS figures showing that the proportion of the population using the internet has quickened significantly in the past 12 months, with some of this growth likely to be down to new, mobile-only users.

However, the data shows there remain 13% of UK adults who have never used the internet, and that while mobile access can contribute to overcoming digital exclusion, it will not be the panacea some are claiming unless key barriers are tackled.

One important source of information for the briefing is the Tinder Foundation, which manages the national network of 5,000 UK online centres. Their experience of encouraging digital take-up, presented at a recent Socitm event, suggests that mobile devices are a powerful tool to enable the transition online of a subset of those currently excluded.

The reason is that mobiles are easy to use and technically robust, require much less financial commitment than a PC with fixed broadband, and are well suited to transient individuals and those with in-home mobility challenges. They are also an ideal route to internet access for the ‘digitally reluctant’ who may not see the point of getting a desktop or laptop device but may be prepared to go online via a device they already have.

But for those that do use their mobile device to get online and then access local authority digital services, the briefing points out that the experience may not be good enough to encourage them to return.

Better connected 2014, this year’s report on Socitm’s annual survey of all local authority websites, highlighted the disappointing quality of the mobile experience. For example, it found that one in three of 2013’s top rated sites lost their ranking in 2014 when a full mobile assessment was introduced for the first time.

The same feedback comes from thousands of visitors to the 100 plus council websites that use Socitm’s Website performance service. Between January and April 2014, visitor satisfaction for mobiles averages 39% lower than on a laptop or desktop device.

“For individuals, using the internet can mean much greater convenience, lower household bills, finding a job, or maintaining contact with friends and relatives” says Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight. “The rapid growth in mobile devices gives local public services an opportunity and business case to support digital inclusion and deliver these benefits, but the evidence also suggests that they need to improve their own offering to mobile users if they are to get the full benefit of this change.”

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