• 'Digital by Default' and the 'hard to reach': Exploring solutions to digital exclusion in remote rural areas

      Williams, Fiona; Philip, Lorna; Farrington, John; Fairhurst, Gorry; University of Chester; University of Aberdeen (SAGE, 2016-09-30)
      In the UK, the geography of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure required for Internet connectivity is such that high speed broadband and mobile phone networks are generally less available in rural areas compared with urban areas or, in other words, as remoteness and population sparsity increase so too does the likelihood of an area having no or very poor broadband connectivity. Against a policy backdrop of UK Government efforts to bring forward network infrastructure upgrades and to improve the accessibility of broadband services in locations where there is a weak commercial investment case, this paper considers the options for the ‘final few’ in the prevailing ‘Digital by Default’ public services context. The paper outlines the Rural Public Access WiFi Services project, a study focused upon enabling Internet connectivity for commercially ‘hard to reach’ rural areas in the UK. The Rural Public Access WiFi Services concept and the experiment are introduced before findings from a pilot deployment of a broadband service to households in a remote rural area, who may be classified as ‘digitally excluded’, are presented. The paper then reflects on our field experiment and the potential of the Rural Public Access WiFi Services model as a solution to overcoming some of the digital participation barriers manifest in the urban–rural divide. Early indications show that the Rural Public Access WiFi Services model has the potential to encourage participation in the Digital Economy and could aid the UK Government’s Digital by Default agenda, although adoption of the model is not without its challenges.
    • The digital divide: Patterns, policy and scenarios for connecting the ‘final few’ in rural communities across Great Britain

      Philip, Lorna; Cottrill, Caitlin; Farrington, John; Williams, Fiona; Ashmore, Fiona; University of Aberdeen; University of Chester (Elsevier, 2017-01-17)
      The Internet can bestow significant benefits upon those who use it. The prima facie case for an urban-rural digital divide is widely acknowledged, but detailed accounts of the spatial patterns of digital communications infrastructure are rarely reported. In this paper we present original analysis of data published by the UK telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, and identify and reflect on the entrenched nature of the urban-rural digital divide in Great Britain. Drawing upon illustrative case vignettes we demonstrate the implications of digital exclusion for personal and business lives in rural, and in particular remote rural, areas. The ability of the current UK policy context to effectively address the urban-rural digital divide is reviewed and scenarios for improving digital connectivity amongst the ‘final few’, including community-led broadband, satellite broadband and mobile broadband, are considered. A call is made for digital future proofing in telecommunications policy, without which the already faster urban areas will get ‘faster, fastest’ leaving rural areas behind and an increasingly entrenched urban-rural divide.
    • ‘It’s revolutionised how we do things’: then and now - a case study of Internet behaviours in a remote rural community

      Williams, Fiona; Farrington, John; Philip, Lorna; University of Aberdeen (James Hutton Institute, 2015-08-31)
      The Digital Economy has opened up new opportunities for societal wellbeing across many domains of life. However, the market dependency of the landscape of connection has resulted in communities which have inadequate broadband infrastructure and are off the digital map. This form of digital exclusion is most notable in remote, rural areas. In this paper we draw upon the Rural Public Access WiFi Service research study that is focused upon enabling Internet connectivity for commercially ‘hard to reach’ rural areas in the UK. Enabling broadband connectivity to those who were previously unable to access the Internet demonstrates benefits, which translate into the positive role that improved digital connectivity can have on the wellbeing of individuals and remote rural communities at large.