Online House Hunter: Homes for the info-poor

Alan Cleaver
GOO 300x200 Online House Hunter: Homes for the info poor

How long before internet access is a human right?

WE’RE slowly drawing to the end of another year and myself and many other people are beginning to look back on the last 12 months and note the significant developments that have occurred. But don’t worry, I’m not going to depress you even more with statistics about the economy and the housing market in particular.

Rather, I was inspired by the blog of David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation who wrote: “We have now reached the point where being unable to access the internet is like having a very large door slammed and locked in your face.”. He headlines his blog, Digital Access – The Fourth Utility? He’s absolutely right of course. The internet has become as vital as electricity, gas or water. Was it really only 16 years ago that I had to phone a dial-up service in Birmingham, Oxford or London to access the net?!

David’s emphasis is on those in social housing who are excluded from Digital Britain. But it applies to anyone who does not have internet access, does not have the skills to access the net or is not motivated to join the strange virtual society Tim Berners-Lee created. The Office for National Statistics tell me that 77 per cent of Britain now has internet access – so that’s 23 per cent which doesn’t. Fortunately, I came across ReasonDigital which presents the rather dry statistics in a much more accessible Hans-Rosling manner at Again the emphasis is on those in social housing but their arguments apply to all.

Just think for a moment about the advantages good internet access from your home offers:

  • Cheaper services thanks to quick price comparison websites
  • Cheaper goods thanks to online shopping
  • Finding a job. Many organisations are deserting the local press “Sits Vac” section in favour of a purely online job advert.
  • Access to key information. Facts are free on the net but finding out about your local council, central government or a million and one other organisations is increasingly available only online.

There are a number of initiative trying to address the digital divide. CitizensOnline is working with a number of organisations to highlight the problem and do something about it. Housing Technology is also fighting the battle and have just published a report, Digital By Default 2012. And I suspect we’ll all be hearing more about Race Online 2012 over the next few weeks. It’s goal is to make the UK the first nation in the world where everyone can use the web. In one sense they already can – public libraries have long had internet access although it can cost and is obviously less accessible than just logging on at home.

Of course, the internet is the fourth utility and of course we should all have access to it but I’m not sure crossing the Digital Divide will be that easy. In addition to those who can’t afford it are those who simply don’t want it – my in-laws are two of them. And before we go rushing down the digial road, does everyone in Britain even have access to a phone? I can’t find any recent statistics but I still see some folk using phone boxes.


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  • muttlee22

    The next time I move,internet access and fast broadband speeds will be the clincher. I suspect that house prices and rents may very well reflect this. Who wants to live in a house without basic facilities for living in the 21st century?

  • cyberdoyle

    We have been trying to get internet access in our area for 10 years. We have done satellites, we have done wifi networks, and now we are doing fibre. Its called B4RN if you want to google it… our houses will have 1000megabit fibre to the home shortly. If you want a job doing then do it yourself. As me gran used ter say. JFDI.

  • Squrrl_Lvr

    I thought the internet was available on most phones these days.

    Isn’t part of the problem that many people who have the internet don’t know how to properly search for information? That, and some websites are rubbish! Have you ever tried to find something out from the HMRC website? And some council websites are shameful confusing piles of obfuscation. If all you use it for is Facebook and youtube, do you REALLY need the internet?

  • Maurice Criddle

    Internet access is a nice thing to have, but like TV radio and yes, even telephone, is still very much optional.  Nobody is going to freeze to death because they cannot download Youtube videos.  My generation grew up without the internet and yet somehow we survived, I would submit that many of us were actually healthier than our children and grandchildren are now.  The internet is good, but is slowly destroying local communities with it’s lure of online shopping and virtual entertainment.  A good thing sure, but only if used in moderation.

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