Digital divide: 1.5m households lack internet access – Ofcom

An annual Ofcom report found that the digital divide – between those that do and do not have internet access – has nearly halved since March 2020

About 1.5 million households in the UK still do not have internet access, although the digital divide has reduced since last year, an Ofcom annual review has discovered.

Although the regulator’s findings mean that approximately 6% of homes were offline in March this year, the figures mark an overall reduction from 11% in March 2020. 

The regulator said the UK digital divide “had narrowed during the coronavirus pandemic”. The finding comes from two annual Ofcom annual reports on online literacy, attitudes and habits among children and adults in the UK. 

Two separate Ofcom surveys compile detailed evidence of how adults and children use and experience the internet. Two “small-scale, rich and detailed qualitative” studies track the changing attitudes, behaviours and digital literacy of the same 18 participants over consecutive years to understand how adults and children develop in a digital world. 

The groups most likely to lack home internet access are those over the age of 65 and those from lower-income households. Nearly half of ‘offline’ adults said they find the internet too complicated or were not interested in having access. More than a third lack internet equipment and hardware. Six in ten of those without the internet say they have asked someone to do something for them online in the past year – most commonly online shopping. 

Social media usage increases among children

Just over half of 5–15s used social media – this figure was highest for the 12–15s at 87%: a third used Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. Just over half of 12–15s reported having “some form of negative online experience” – the most common type, happening to almost a third of children, was being contacted by someone they did not know who wanted to be their friend. More than three in 10 12–15s had seen worrying, or nasty, content online. 

Of 5–15s, 61% have a tablet and 55% a smartphone. More than 90% of 12–15s had a smartphone, and nearly 70% of 8–11s had a tablet. The most popular online activity was video-sharing platforms (97%), followed by playing games (71%) and messaging apps (65%). A majority of young teenagers (65%) knew that vloggers and influencers are paid to promote products or services, and almost half (49%) were aware of ad placements in search engines. 

The survey also suggests children experienced a lack of structure and routine due to spending too long online. Smartphones and gaming consoles were the biggest distractions. Most children talk to fewer people and do so less often during the pandemic, the survey found – the majority said they found maintaining friendships during the pandemic harder.

Almost all of the children in the study felt there was pressure to look good online, and the majority of the children, across all ages, used filters and editing apps to alter their appearance. 

Digital divide among adults

Adults over the age of 65 are the least likely to have internet access at home (77%) – compared to the next lowest, those aged 55–64, who have internet access in more than nine in 10 cases (94%). Interviews revealed that several older participants found lockdown “a catalyst” to begin using digital tools, such as video conferencing and online banking. 

Those in the DE socio-economic group, the most economically disadvantaged, were the least likely to have the internet at home –with those in the AB socio-economic group the ones most likely to be online (97%). Northern Ireland had the lowest percentage of homes with internet access (88%). Women are marginally more likely than men to use smartphones to access the internet and have a social media profile.

In other news: Department for Education loses almost 200 devices in two years


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