By Steve McCaskill
Seventy libraries and community centers across England will be provided with WiFi and technical support in a bid to get more of the U.K. population online and to learn digital skills.
BT WiFi hotspots are to be deployed in 57 libraries and 13 community centers while a further 10 sites, including a care home, a charity home and a homeless center, will also be covered and there are plans to include more locations in future.
As part of the initiative, Barclays "Digital Eagles," specially-trained staff who provide technical advice to customers and non-customers in-branch, will help out at each location.
The companies say they are committed to getting more people online, claiming that 18 percent of the population have never used the Internet, a figure which increases to 60 percent among those aged 65 or older.
The partners say libraries and community centers are the 'heartbeat' of many communities and such environments will give people confidence to take advantage of the social and economic benefits that the Web can bring.
"An evaluation of our existing digital inclusion programs shows that for the elderly and unemployed, both access and long term support in the community is essential," explained Anna Easton, head of BT's connected society program. "This new partnership with Barclays will ensure that support is available for those that need it the most."
"Across the country, people are experiencing the digital revolution, but like all revolutions, it's not one that happens to all people at once. Some will adopt digital skills quickly, others will take more time," added Steven Roberts, strategic transformation director at Barclays. "We firmly believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind on the digital journey and through this significant partnership with BT, we can ensure that even more people have access to the services and support they need to embrace the digital revolution."
The government is committed to reducing the number of offline citizens by a quarter by 2016 as part of an ambitious digital inclusion strategy, which aims to all but eliminate digital illiteracy by 2020. More than 40 organizations have signed up to the digital inclusion charter, which accompanies the strategy.