First post…..

I just thought this would be a good way for us to get some ideas going about the project we’re thinking about, and it occurred to me that this would be a good demonstration of some of the issues which have to be addressed – namely the concept of a ‘digital divide’ in Wales but also maybe the extent to which broadband take up in Wales should be seen more in terms of the access to applications, the tools that people need to use, as much as the actual infrastructure.

Having set up this blog in less than 5 minutes, and having access to email, document sharing etc. for free if I need it for this project means that we’re in pretty different world than even five years ago. The fact that I’m able to read and change these words and images on my phone or in any place with internet access – of which there are now far more than ever – also means that although actual access to these technologies is still obviously important, as we shall see in the finished work, the ability to use and a manipulate the tools is just as big an issue. You don’t have to understand how a car works to drive, or how radio telecommunications work to text – with the advent of free software and the fruits of the open source movement, there’s far more potential to be able to communicate, participate and learn (plus have fun), in theory at least.

I’ve included the tag cloud as a way of exploring some of the conceptual ideas and any relevant docs and sources of information ar obviously linked either in the text or listed on the right. It’s just another way of letting you see the notes behind the eventual work, so you can comment as you see fit. I’ve got themes as diverse as Ivan Illich as guru of Web 2.0 (!) –

Some of the most obvious drivers to web use seem to come from access to peer-to-peer technologies (‘free’ movies and music anyone?), but I think that there’s never been an easier, or cheaper, time for this technology to be used. Anecdotally, you increasingly hear of phenomena such as whole communites being served warnings about internet use, for example (which I recently heard about from a friend in North Wales, for example – the minute people had access to higher speed broadband, they were downloading like crazy!).

Basically, getting to grips with Web 2.0 (…there’s a Web 3.0 on it’s way by all accounts also…) suggests a fundamental shift in the potential for people to organise, communicate and learn – and perhaps also shifts therefore in the way we think about learning, communicating and organising. However, how does this reach the excluded, those who are not currently participating in the rather grand sounding knowledge economy or information society (what do thse terms actually mean)? How do people learn and get used to using the technology? What are the current arguments about/barriers to ensuring open access for all? What does the ‘divide’ look like, and is it comparable to a new form of illiteracy, for example? Certainly, those who are concerned with the development of the web in general stress that it has to be open and accessible to all through as many avenues as possible – including the mobile phone, which I think is where a lot of real potential lies in the future, and because mobile charges for internet access are coming down. This is also the one piece of kit that everyone has and everyone is used to using, with SMS being one of the most successful applications of all time.

I don’t know about you, but I remember about 6-7 years ago getting excited about the potential for wireless being the way ahead for empowering communities – I think it’s fair to say that in 2009, this technology, especially in urban areas, is becoming more and more ubiquitous (have a look at the hotspot map for Cardiff, Swansea or Newport…. ): the 2007 Ofcom report pointed out that in this area at least, Wales had a higher number of hotspots than the other nations and regions, which has since probably increased further, but I guess more so in urban areas and twn centres.

Some of the most recent headline research (2008) points to interesting facts about Wales:

  • Wales has the lowest broadband penetration of the UK nations and regions – 45%, compared to 57% in England and Scotland, 52% in Northern Ireland
  • take-up of broadband is highest in Cardiff (58%), Swansea (56%) and Newport (62%), compared to 42% in the rest of Wales. Take-up is lowest in smaller urban areas in the south (34%).
  • Whilst take-up is highest in these cities in Wales, rural areas in Wales have higher take-up of fixed-line phones (88%) and broadband (51%) than in urban areas of Wales taken as a whole (77% and 43% respectively)

The same research also highlights issues such as the amount of homes which now rely solely on mobile phones (and will therefore be reliant on web access through wireless means only). The difference between urban and rural is especially relevant to the debate.

I suggest that at the moment headline themes for the review will include: intro, aims/scope, current available picture of broadband/telecoms in Wales, community/social informatics, education and training, civic participation, economic and social regeneration, gaps for further research – information I’ve gathered so far seem to coalesce around these, but I’m quite keen to include more conceptual stuff about the potential of Web 2.0, the pitfalls of ‘e-government ‘ etc.

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