In response to a report highlighting the adverse effects of digital exclusion among its residents, Preston City Council has unveiled the Preston Digital Co-operative to help bridge this digital divide.
The Preston Digital Co-operative
A study by the Co-operative Broadband Network (CBN) found that there was a “high level of demand for support…which is likely to continue to rise”, regarding people wanting to get online but lacking the financial means.
To help bridge this gap, Preston’s latest initiative aims to establish Wi-Fi fibre hubs, providing affordable or even free internet connectivity to local households.
And, as well as offering affordable Wi-Fi, the Digital Co-operative will recycle second-hand hardware and distribute it to those currently not online.
Additionally, the council has earmarked £50,000 to educate individuals in essential digital skills.
The initiative aims to address the aforementioned report which noted that the main barriers to digital access in Preston included economic disadvantages, low literacy levels, health issues and language barriers.
It also found older age groups sometimes lacked an understanding of how to get online, and some young people were unable to fill in online forms.
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Closing the Digital Divide: Why It Matters
We all know that getting online today is important, but what makes it so crucial, and what motivates Preston to actively pursue digital equality?
CBN, in a warning highlighted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), underlined the ripple effects of digital exclusion, emphasising its potential impact on our health, well-being, and overall quality of life.
Having originally considered other ways of boosting digital inclusion, such as subsidising residents’ access to existing broadband providers and providing grants for people to buy their own devices, Preston City Council decided these were too costly and complex to administer, as well as being open to misuse.
As a result, they have embraced a new initiative known as the “Preston Digital Co-operative.” This endeavour will initially receive funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) allocated to Preston, with plans for long-term sustainability.
Over the years 2023/24 and 2024/25, the city council will allocate £20,000 annually to engage an organisation responsible for establishing the Preston Digital Co-operative. Additionally, a grant of £160,000 will be provided to this organization to support its efforts in achieving its objectives.