Society is changing profoundly as a result of Covid-19, and information and communications technology (ICT) is playing a critical role. ICT is helping our society function effectively with less proximate contact, whether it is in terms of remote working, learning or recreational activity. This has brought to the fore some long-standing issues in relation to the ability of different parts of society, business and government to engage with the digital future. Prior to Covid-19 there is evidence that divides in access to ICT existed, and pandemic has in some respects magnified the divides.
These divides include:
- geographic access, with 92 per cent of households having a fixed broadband connection in Dublin in 2019, compared to 69 per cent of households in the Midlands;
- affordability, with lower income groups more likely to rely on mobile digital connections only, and less likely to have a range of devices to maximise their engagement with the digital world;
- skills, with older people and those from lower income groups less digitally skilled than others; and
- perceived need to engage with the internet/ attitude towards the internet, with many older and less skilled groups seeing less need to engage with the digital world.
These divides are evident among individuals and households, among businesses and the farming community, and within public services. They mean that groups in Irish society and the economy are not able to fully engage with the digital present and future. These issues are of concern given the importance of technological and digital breakthroughs for the future of economy and society.
This NESC project on digital inclusion will outline the extent of variations in access to ICT internationally and in Ireland, the reasons for this, the policies put in place to address the variation in Ireland, and their success to date. It will then look at innovative actions put in place internationally and in Ireland to address these variations; and the extent to which they could be adopted more broadly in Ireland.
A second stage of the project will consider how public services are designed to ensure that users can all engage with them.
The material gathered will be available to feed into the new National Digital Strategy, and its implementation; and into the 10-year strategy for adult literacy, numeracy, and digital skills currently being developed. A report to Council will be finalised in Spring 2021.