Broadband coverage has been in the news again recently, as those in rural areas remain up in arms at not getting the speeds they need.
Small firms in rural areas have said they may even be put out of business if they can’t get the internet access they need. It’s these same small businesses who are then paying a whopping fee for accessing paper bills – as I told BBC Leeds in an interview, my paper phone bill is £6 every quarter, for something that costs far less than £1 to produce.
I live on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and know how frustrating it can be to watch the screen buffering – yet service providers still persist in asking us to go online to get the information about what energy we’ve used or what we have in the bank, and to abandon reading a simple sheet of paper, where the only access issues are a potential paper cut from the envelope.
And though it’s usually the rural areas we hear about, don’t think lack of fast broadband is confined to the wilds of the UK – lots of cities and towns have so-called “not-spots” too.
At the same time, the number of people who say they don’t use the internet because they don’t have basic skills is growing. The European Commission’s Digital Agenda Scoreboard says 40% of people not using the internet give that as the reason – an increase of around 7% in the last five years. Even more people, though, 45%, said they didn’t have the internet at home because it was not needed.
Now I know these figures are skewed by countries where internet use is particularly limited – but even in the UK, 20% of people say their digital skills are “low”. Yet companies seem to expect everyone to use the internet to manage one of their most important commodities – their money – using a machine that many profess not to be competent or comfortable with. That’s like giving me a few bricks and some cement and asking me to build a wall – I’d probably get it done in some shape or form, but you wouldn’t want it holding up your house!
If you are happy using the internet, that’s entirely your choice. For those who aren’t, they should have the choice of a bill or statement through the post. Just remember to keep the plasters handy for those paper cuts!