Council slams ‘outdated’ digital exclusion report

A council has hit out at a heatmap claiming to show digital exclusion by local authority area for using “outdated” information.

Last week, digital skills charity Go ON produced a map which demonstrated that social and digital exclusion seem to be closely related to each other.

But Northumberland County Council has challenged figures in the report that stated 13.8% of households in its area lacked access to basic broadband.

A statement from the council said: “The council believes this figure is based on historic 2013 Ofcom data which is before the launch of the authority’s £20m broadband rollout programme.

“Latest data from ‘Think Broadband’ shows that 2.1% of households are now without access to basic broadband in Northumberland.”

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Dave Ledger, deputy leader of the council, said: “We are committed to reducing levels of digital exclusion for all residents and businesses.

“However it’s important people have access to the right information and it’s concerning this report has used historic and outdated data which doesn’t reflect the progress we’ve made over the last two years.”

Ledger said that the situation since 2013 has changed dramatically thanks to the council’s iNorthumberland programme – a partnership jointly funded with central government, the European Regional Development Fund and supplier BT.

The first phase of the programme has a target of bringing fibre broadband to around 90% of homes and businesses in Northumberland by December.

The second phase of the programme is expected to begin in January, bringing the number of premises in the county with access to fibre broadband to 149,000.

Ledger said: “Working with BT, we have been able to find effective solutions to some of the more difficult to reach areas, and we are still working hard to find innovative solutions and improve broadband speeds for those homes and businesses where fibre broadband is not available.

“We are working with those communities to talk in more detail about how we can improve speeds for those living and working in areas not currently within the roll-out plans.”

The Go ON report found that the highest levels of basic digital skills are found in Greater London (84%), while Scotland and East Anglia both scored 81%.

Colin Marrs

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