Web guru warns of digital divide

Web guru warns of digital divide


By Simon O’Hare

Internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox has issued a stark warning about the dangers of a ‘two-tier society’ based on web access in her first speech at the House of Lords.

There are 16 million people who lack basic digital skills and seven million who have never been online, said Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, who became a peer in March.

“I see usage of and access to the internet as a basic right that all citizens should be able to enjoy,” she said.

The lastminute.com founder and UK Digital Champion said there needs to be a focus on developing skills and internet infrastructure to ensure sections of society are not left behind.

She called on the country to build on its positive foundations – of competitively priced internet access and the highest number of online shoppers in the world – to create what is “truly a digital Britain”.

The majority of people who have not used the internet live in the most disadvantaged communities, the independent crossbench peer said.

She also cited statistics that suggest people with web access are 40 per cent more likely to get work and would achieve on average 25% better educational results.

Being online can also have dramatically positive effects on feelings of loneliness, she added.

“We must not create a two-tier society but aspire to a universality of digital skills. We must make sure that the potential of all our citizens is unlocked,” Baroness Lane-Fox urged.

She said the benefits of this would be seen both on an individual and a national level, boosting prosperity across the board.

“In this tough economic climate the internet is such a powerful tool to help people manage the most tricky circumstances of their lives whatever their age and whatever their location,” she said.

Baroness Lane-Fox went on to say that a charity she had founded achieved significant results in this area.

And she even found room for a light-hearted joke as she made her maiden address to the Lords.

Given that “peer-to-peer support” is the best way to spread skills, she quipped that “as I look around here I see a room full of potential”.