Bridging the digital divide - less technology, more nous


OvumDigital divides in developed economies are less about limited broadband availability and more about a lack of broadband demand and complex interfaces. These are some of the key conclusions to drawn in the report from Ovum, entitled Bridging the broadband divide: challenges and solutions.
There has been significant focus on the limited availability of broadband as the main factor in creating digital divides whereas Ovum and other consumer surveys and studies, have shown other factors such as a lack of demand as being a more significant barrier.
Globally, overwhelming evidence that broadband is ‘good for the economy and good for the nation’, has made connecting society via broadband Internet a major government goal. In many developed markets, broadband penetration is now well over 50%; however, overall broadband growth is slowing despite the fact that broadband availability is at an all-time high.
This is due to either a significant minority of people not being interested in taking up broadband or them facing significant barriers in doing so.
Ovum recommends a number of strategies that will help to bridge the digital divides:
First of all, less emphasis on technology: many people without broadband or the Internet are put off by overly complex devices and interfaces that cater for the technically literate and users with disabilities are largely under-served. Inclusive design needs to play a much greater role through the adoption of design standards and principles, shared R&D and increased collaboration between commercial companies, not-for-profit organisations and public agencies.

Secondly, broadband could be embedded in social and economic programmes including education, employment, care and others designed to empower the socially excluded.

Thirdly broadband providers need to pay attention to community relevance, from marketing to grassroots activity. In most cases, operators will play a key role in broadband inclusion activity, but this will be in partnership with other commercial companies, public agencies, NGOs and user groups. For example, efforts to target elderly people can involve old-age charities, targeted media coverage, local care agencies and companies specialising in solutions designed for elderly users.
Companies in the ICT sector, including broadband providers and consumer electronic companies, face the double challenge of reduced consumer spending and saturation of their core customer bases (early adopters and the mass market).

The growth opportunities that lie in serving this last 10–30% of the market globally are there, although they are the most challenging segments to sell to, with higher acquisition costs and lower returns. However service providers with the finances, acumen and resources to pursue these segments in partnership with others, can reap benefits that go beyond additional incremental revenue and Corporate Social Responsibility fulfilment, including building strength in inclusive design and additional brand value.