SCOTLAND’S rural areas are among the most excluded from the digital world, according to a new report which identifies a postcode lottery in terms of online infrastructure, access and skills.
Communities across the Highlands and Islands have been highlighted as areas in the UK that are the least connected, according to the study by a digital skills charity.
It found that no fewer than seven local authority regions throughout Scotland are in danger being left behind in the new digital age, prompting warnings that entire communities are being “held back.”
The research by Go ON UK, which looks to help people get connected with the internet as part of their everyday lives, found the problem was most pronounced in the north of Scotland. In the Western Isles, 19% of households do not receive broadband speeds of at least two megabits per second, and 17.9% of adults – almost one in five – have never been online.
In the Highlands, 14.6% of households do not receive the basic broadband speeds, with the same percentage of the adult population having never logged on to the internet.
The research was combined with other social factors - including education, income and health - to create a “heatmap” of digital exclusion for the UK.
Five other council areas - Argyll & Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire, Orkney, Shetland - also classed in the study as being at high risk of overall exclusion.
Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, founder of Lastminute.com and chairwoman of Go ON UK, said that the lack of digital literacy was hurting the country.
“We should be striving to be the most digitally forward nation. I think that’s going to be essential - the internet is not going to be less pronounced, it is going to get more,” she said. “The fact that millions of adults cannot do four things online we deem as the lowest level of entry to the internet not only holds them back, but also holds the country back. I would argue that’s partly why we have the productivity challenges we do. The people who can benefit most from these things are also the most excluded.” The research found that across the UK, nearly one in four UK adults do not have basic online skills.
Although several areas in Scotland were shown as having exclusion problems, Scots in general were found to be the most capable online, alongside London and East Anglia.
The study also included a survey by Ipsos MORI of more than 4,000 adults about basic digital skills. Those taking part were asked about five online abilities: managing information, communicating, transacting, problem solving and creating.
While 89% of respondents said they could use a search engine, over a quarter (27%) could not buy or install an app. Adults in London were the most likely to complete all five sections, with 84% completing each of them, followed by East Anglia and Scotland (81%).
Go ON UK’s chief executive, Rachel Neaman, said the findings showed there was no quick solution to the problem of ensuring people are making the most of the online world.
“What our heatmap shows is that there is no single cause of digital exclusion, and therefore no one-size-fits-all solution either,” she explained Whilst Scotland scores low overall in terms of infrastructure, it has the highest levels of basic digital skills of all the four UK nations. In Manchester, nearly 80% of adults have all five basic digital skills, but only one-third used them in the past three months.”