Social Aspects

The SIRA project is built on a philosophy that rural enterprise and culture needs and deserves good access to broadband connectivity in order to enjoy the same benefits as those living and working in urban areas.

Given the rapid growth of Internet use and its integration into society, the relatively low provision of Internet to rural communities is disadvantageous particularly in cultural, educational, financial, social and political terms. Yet this stands in contrast with the power of the Internet to provide solutions to many of those problems associated with rural living and working. For example, retail choices in rural areas are more limited than those in towns and cities yet Internet access can provide a means for rural citizens to widen their consumption choices, as well as gain access to a range of resources which can reduce the “rural penalty”. These issues are crucial for rural businesses as well. Indeed, the Scottish Executive argued in 2000 that “If we are not connected we shall not compete. Embracing the Digital Age is not an option but a necessity for success.”

The Internet has the potential to reduce the barrier of distance for rural communities. This can be of value in a number of ways, for example in delivering and receiving information quickly and over large physical distances. Additionally, the Internet can provide opportunities for networking with potential business contacts and collaborators and therefore prove advantageous for those businesses struggling to network in more traditional ways.

Barriers to adoption also exist which have been associated with those living in rural areas. Closely related to adoption of technologies is digital literacy – the extent to which an individual is competent in using digital technologies such as computing software and Internet applications. Digital literacy can be impacted by a number of factors – not only levels of education but also by the degree of experience an individual has had with digital technologies. It follows that those with poor access to such technologies may as a result suffer from poor digital literacy, through a lack of experience with technologies. For those with low digital literacy, take up of Internet technologies can be poor. It has been argued that particularly for those with low digital literacy, support and training in the use of Internet technologies is crucial to avoid low Internet take up rates (Hansson et al., 2007).

In the SIRA project we are carrying out a qualitative study with businesses in the creative industries who have either a poor broadband connection, or no broadband at all. We are exploring the effects of poor/no broadband on these businesses in terms of their ability to sustain and grow their business and compete with others, both at a local and global level. Following the interviews, case studies will be carried out with a smaller selection of our sample (approx 5 businesses) in which satellite broadband will be provided for 2 years +, and the impact on their businesses will be explored from a number of angles.

We expect to see a wide number of socio-economic outcomes resulting from enhanced broadband provision:

In order to fully evidence such outcomes, we propose a research design in which complimentary sources of data are considered in comparison with the findings from the case study research. Therefore, in addition to the two case studies, additional data collection will take place (both quantitative and qualitative) relating to the effects of satellite broadband on social and economic aspects for rural communities. This research will be carried out in a number of settings throughout the UK with customers who have progressed to a faster satellite broadband connection.

The research described here is supported by the award made by the RCUK Digital Economy programme to the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub; award reference: EP/G066051/1.