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Getting the nation online

9m Brits still living offline

Chances are you're reading this article online, having just updated your Facebook profile, checked your Twitter feed and maybe bought a couple of cheap DVDs on Amazon.

But amazingly, nearly nine million British adults have still never been online. Ever.

Almost 30 million of us use the internet every day and it has increasingly become something we rely on for day-to-day tasks. But a huge portion of the British population has been left in the digital dark ages - missing out on the benefits that come with a connected world.

Why are people still offline?

Age, income, education and even gender all affect someone’s likelihood of being online - with the over 65s, the widowed and those with a disability being the most likely to have never used the web.

These factors combine to leave 8.7m adults offline, reveal new numbers from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

But although it might be surprising that 17.5 percent of UK adults have never used the internet, this figure is falling – with 500,000 newbies trying out the web since August last year – giving hope to the national campaign fighting to get everyone online by 2012.

Cutting costs

Around a quarter of people who aren’t online say that equipment and internet access is too expensive. But a range of initiatives went live this month bringing refurbished PCs to people for as little as £98.

Remploy, which helps older people get online, has already sold more than 50 refurbished computers since on 11 May, while Microsoft and two other partners have also joined the scheme.

David Felton, head of communications at Remploy, says that although they don’t know what the total demand will be, the scheme has got off to a good start, “making internet connections available to a broad range of people who previously may not have been able to afford it”.

‘I don’t need the net

But according to Martha Lane-Fox, UK Digital Champion and founder of lastminute.com, the majority of offline Brits say they simply don’t need the net.

This is where the newly revealed network of 100,000 volunteer digital champions comes in. 64 percent of people say they don’t go online because the web’s just “not for them”, says Lane-Fox - who is also in charge of the Race Online 2012 campaign.

She says: “All the evidence of new internet users proves that what’s changed their mind about technology has been a word of inspiration or encouragement from a friend.”

And while some of these people might be employees or volunteers working for charities like Age UK, “many are just individuals helping a friend, or just sitting down informally with their gran”.

Shooting for the moon

Lane-Fox says that Race Online 2012 is aiming to get as close to 100 percent internet take up as possible, and is convinced that it is “entirely realistic” for internet usage to match figures for TV adoption - somewhere in the high-90s.

And the potential benefits will be huge – savings of £560 a year through shopping and paying bills online, education and earning potential and providing a lifeline from social isolation.

But without big coffers and relying on partners such as the Post Office to promote the cause, how realistic are the UK Digital Champion’s targets?

“I’m a big believer that you should shoot for the moon,” said Lane-Fox.

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