Headlines: May 30th, 2003

Country pubs in two parts of England have been given IT equipment and broadband internet access as part of a demonstration project run by the Countryside Agency, the Department for Education and Skills and Locals on Line, to help close the ‘digital divide between urban and rural areas.  The five pubs in Dorset and four in Northumberland have now become part of the network of 6,000 UK online centers around the country.Meanwhile small and medium sized firms are to benefit from Whitehall’s first portal dedicated to streaming web content. It has been set up by the Small Businesses Service to provide practical advice and best practice information.

The pubs scheme was officially launched by Countryside Agency chairman Sir Ewen Cameron and it sees the nine locals piloting the project being wired up with computers, printers and webcams. The idea is to give people in rural areas the chance to use IT they may not be able to have at home or work, with a local facilitator on hand to give training on how to use the technology.

Sir Ewen said a recent report from the agency had shown a wide ‘digital divide’ between town and country. Two thirds of the population overall can access affordable broadband internet, but this drops to a quarter in market towns, 7% in rural villages and only 1% in more remote rural areas. ICT, he said, could be a great way for people living in the countryside to access services that don’t have a local physical presence.

The Small Business Service site is designed to build on the success of CONNECT events and support programmes and gives small firms access to ‘real-life’ documentary video case studies, an extensive resource library and clear self-assessment to help them boost profits, productivity and performance. The site is a first for Government as it is the only portal dedicated to streaming media content in Whitehall. Online videos are available on the website and cover all areas of business.