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Suffolk councils seek to close digital divide

The consortium seeks to create a viable business model that will help end digital exclusion

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Older people are among those who could benefit most from digital technology
Older people are among those who could benefit most from digital technology

A trio of public sector organisations in the UK county of Suffolk are members of a consortium taking part in a digital inclusion initiative aimed at improving the connectivity of older and disabled people in the region.

 

Suffolk County Council, West Suffolk Council and the University of Suffolk have partnered with network provider Cisco, Bronze Software Labs and GDS Digital Services for the 21-month project which is funded by Innovate UK.

 

The consortium seeks to create a viable business model that will help end digital exclusion. Its premise is that those who would benefit most from digital connectivity – older and disabled people, the financially challenged – are often those who are least likely to afford or adopt internet access yet are more likely to rely heavily on public services.

 

It is estimated that 80 per cent of government interactions with the public take place with the poorest 25 per cent of society.

 

“With many of our services now online, it is more important than ever to ensure everyone has access to digital services,” said councillor Beccy Hopfensperger, cabinet member for adult care at Suffolk County Council.

 

“A vital tool for connectivity, this programme will also enable people to develop the necessary skills and experience to feel more confident online.”

 

The project will see the consortium install highly secure broadband and connectivity in approximately 200 homes. Suffolk residents involved in this programme will either be supported by Suffolk County Council or will be residents of Havebury Housing Association.

 

The initial priority for the project will be older and disabled people in the community. It will also look to explore the benefits of enabling people in their own homes to use simple video technology with family members and care professionals.

 

“We believe that everyone in the UK should have equal digital opportunity, from the social inclusion that connectivity can help bring, to access to healthcare services and a wealth of information that empowers social and educational mobility” added Scot Gardner, chief executive, Cisco UK & Ireland.

 

“The challenge up until now has been finding the right commercial model to deliver connectivity to all. This project will trial a way to engage people that makes sound financial sense, is practical and provides transformational benefits to everyone.”

 

Public sector professionals visiting the homes will be able to utilise the secure connectivity to remotely access public sector networks with certification unique to Cisco routers. The connectivity will enable them to conduct their work more efficiently, Cisco said.

 

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