Government opens doors to Internet centres

UK Government hopes online centres will help spread the Internet word

The government believes it in on target for its ambitious goal of having universal Internet access by 2005 as the Education Secretary David Blunkett opens over a thousand online centres.

The 1,200 UK online centres will give the public access to PCs and the Internet and is particularly targeted at technophobes. "The centres aim to attract people who may feel technology is not for them, such as people with basic skills needs, lone parents, people over 60, those with disabilities, people from minority ethnic groups and unemployed people," Blunkett said in a statement.

Some of the centres will be free but some will charge. The DfEE denies this is unfair. "They are community based centres and the community must decide whether they have to charge or whether they can offer the services free," said a DfEE spokeswoman. Early indications are that trial centres have been well used and helped people find jobs and improve social and personal skills.

A recent survey by the Department for Education and Employment found that while 68 percent of professionals have used the Internet, only 22 percent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers had been online. "The Internet opens up a whole new world of opportunities," said the Education Secretary. "UK online centres put people first rather than technology and provide the first step into the Internet world, learning and jobs -- at low or no cost," said Blunkett.

By the autumn the government plans to have opened 6000 online centres across the UK. It is also setting £5m aside to give rural communities access to such centres. This is in response to criticism that a digital divide is opening between town and country. "This government is committed to bridging the 'digital divide' between those with access to technology and those without," said the Education secretary.

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