Michael Wills

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Learning and Technology disputes Eva Pascoe's claim that getting people online is best left to private enterprise.
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The Independent Online

Ms Pascoe was quite right to champion the role of the private sector in the opening up of internet access to people ("It's not Tony who's getting us online", 18 September). It is because the private sector has taken the lead in reducing the costs of new technologies that more access is being provided for people at work, at home and in the high street through venues such as internet cafés.

Ms Pascoe was quite right to champion the role of the private sector in the opening up of internet access to people ("It's not Tony who's getting us online", 18 September). It is because the private sector has taken the lead in reducing the costs of new technologies that more access is being provided for people at work, at home and in the high street through venues such as internet cafés.

However, Ms Pascoe missed the point about the role of the Government's UKonline initiative and the UKonline centres.

Not all of the private-sector internet developments to which Ms Pascoe refers will reach everyone. There are still many barriers that keep people from the internet, and reducing usage costs alone will not resolve that. Many people in the country have never used a computer, let alone logged on to the internet. Many more do not work, cannot afford a computer at home and are intimidated by the idea of visiting an internet café - that is, if they even have one nearby.

The Government launched UKonline for these people, to encourage them to try new technologies and to enable them to make the most of the opportunities these technologies offer. The online centres are being set up in places that have no such provision and where there is a demand for one.

So, the Government is not wasting taxpayers' money, as Ms Pascoe asserts. The £1bn it is spending is an indication of its commitment to reaching out to those excluded, so far, from the technological revolution. It is too simple to say that lower costs will get these people online. The scale of the task of bridging the digital divide is immense, but in partnership with business, and building on existing provision, the Government can help to achieve internet access for all.

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