Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Digital access is about discovering value - not Mbs

The big idea at the heart of the Digital Britain interim report is 2mb broadband access for every home in the UK.

I've been thinking about the issues of access a lot recently - mostly prompted by my work as a Trustee at (which I, of course, recommend to you :-). (I should make clear before I go on, the following are my views - not necessarily those of Citizens Online.)

For a start 2mb isn't very much these days. If it was a real (rather than 'as advertised') 2mb that would be a start. My 8mb home connection rarely actually delivers half its claim. (thanks BT).

But that is very much only half of the story. (image courtesy)

Speed of access to the internet is not the same as speed at which something can be broadcast at you via broadband.

Speed of access is - just like all the best things about the internet - about a two-way flow.

The internet is created by us, with us. You are a participant and contributor to it. To access it is therefore to have an equal ability to contribute to it as it is to draw down from it: So 2mb download and upload speed, please.

But the story of access is about more even than this. It is one thing to have connection to the pipe - and a nice fat two-way one at that - it is quite another to get your share of the value.

It's a little like Victorian Government sending a free set of encylopaedias to every home, only to discover only the rich kids benefit - because they know how to read.

It's time to think about the equivalent of teaching people how to read and write. on the web - making their ability to participate and share a core foundation of how the UK as a whole benefits from the digital revolution.

Let me give you a real and personal example. If the very nice people at the Government decide in their wisdom to provide free wifi in the road my dear old mum lives in it she'll get precisely zero value from it. Zip, nada, until such time as someone either gives her an interface to access participatory sites with such ease it's like popping the kettle on. Or until such time as someone invests the time and trouble to show through demonstration the value she could join in.

Access to the value creating power of the network is little to do with access to a particular terminal at a particular speed.

How many people got real value from the early internet; from the dial-up modem internet; from the not-always-available internet - from the bloody-hard-to-use internet? Lots.

Those pioneers didn't need 2mb downloads to join in the value.

We wouldn't have today's internet if they had. They found value inspite of the limitations.

And they told their friends. Their friends joined in and made it bigger and better.

Their friends got value, told their friends etc etc ad infinitum.

Helping others discover the value available through the tools on offer is the crucial and critical thing here.

It's the part the Government should be focusing on with its reports and big ideas.

But it's also the part ALL of us can commit to doing something about.

Sure, you can lobby your MP to put pressure on for the Government to spend more cash on ever fatter pipes.

Or you can just coach one more person in the value you get from being online.

The more of us who make it to the edges - the less those in the centre have control over the big decisions anyway...

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?