Britain Still Suffers from Digital Divide

The elderly and those from lower-income homes still haven't gotten the message that high-tech TV will soon turn into a necessity

Britain is still divided by a digital gulf which separates the elderly and lower-income households from the rest of the nation, according to Ofcom.

Crucial to driving an awareness of digital communications among these groups is television and, although the message is starting to get through that digital television will soon be a necessity for those who want to watch once the analogue signal is switched off in the UK, it isn't reaching all quarters equally.

Nationwide, awareness of the digital switchover, pencilled in for 2010, has reached 52 per cent which represents a doubling since 2005. However, among the elderly and low-income households that figure is still just 40 per cent.

Research from Ofcom found that friends and family are the most important source of information and the regulatory body expressed concern that people over 65 may be far less likely to know somebody who will help with the digital switchover.

In total 77 per cent of over-65s said they do not keep up with new developments in communications technology.

A lack of understanding of new communications among the poor is also proving a problematic cycle to break, said Colette Bowe, chairman of Ofcom's independent consumer panel, the group which conducted the research.

Bowe said lower-income households spend proportionately more on communications than any other group and yet they are also the least likely to switch suppliers, with many favouring mobile phones over landlines.