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Lane Fox kicks off campaign to get millions online

The government's digital champion wants to get everyone of working age in the UK using the internet by 2015, but accepts there is no government funding for it
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The UK's digital champion, Martha Lane Fox, has launched a campaign to get millions of people online by the 2012 London Olympics, with the blessing — but not the financial backing — of the government.

Overall, there are 10 million people of working age in the UK who are not connected, Lane Fox said in a statement launching Manifesto for a Networked Nation, unveiled on Monday by the Race Online 2012 project. The project, which is leading the campaign, aims to get these people all using the internet by the end of the current parliament in 2015, and to get "millions more online" within two years.

"By getting more people online, everyone wins. Businesses are competing for more online customers. Government needs to deliver better for less. Charities want to support the people they serve better. So we are calling on them to work together and tackle the unfairness and lost opportunities caused by digital exclusion, and deliver positive social change," Lane Fox, the co-founder of Lastminute.com and the Lucky Voice karaoke bar chain, said in the statement.

The manifesto proposes getting the IT industry to develop a national programme to donate second-hand equipment to those who need it. It also suggests convincing device and connectivity retailers to provide internet access packages for people on low incomes and the elderly that will have low up-front costs, affordable monthly payments and ongoing support.

One particular goal is to help the unemployed, 900,000 of whom do not use the internet. The project also hopes to improve educational performance and to "prevent the social isolation of older people", according to the Race Online 2012 statement.

However, the manifesto makes no mention of funding, and a spokesperson for Lane Fox told ZDNet UK that there will be no government money going into the scheme, at least initially.

"I'm delighted to have Martha Lane Fox on board to help drive forward this important agenda," prime minister David Cameron said in a statement on Monday. "In the internet age, we need to ensure that people aren't being left behind as more and more services and business move online. But this issue isn't just about fairness — as Martha's work shows, promoting digital inclusion is essential for a dynamic modern economy and can help to make government more efficient and effective."

Cameron's enthusiasm for Race Online 2012 is partly due to the lack of a funding request, Lane Fox told BBC News on Monday morning.

"I'm very conscious that there is no money [for the project], and the good news is we're not asking for any, and I think that's why the prime minister supports our ambition absolutely," Lane Fox said.

She explained that the scheme had three main strands: asking web-savvy people to help teach people they know how to use the internet, asking the government to make local community services' PCs — such as those in schools, libraries and GP surgeries — accessible to those in need, and partnership with companies such as McDonalds, Microsoft and Google.

Lane Fox was appointed as the Labour government's digital inclusion champion in 2009. The new coalition government axed her Digital Public Services Unit in June, promptly reappointing her under the slightly different title of 'digital champion'.

BT, a Race Online 2012 partner, told ZDNet UK that it already provides tailored internet access packages for people on low incomes and the elderly. Virgin Media noted its partnership with the e-Learning Foundation — a charity that helps children from low-income families get online — and with Digital Unite, which aims to do the same for the elderly. TalkTalk had not responded as to whether it would follow Lane Fox's proposals at the time of writing.

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