Build it and they will come. Perhaps they will but many won’t. Demand stimulation is an essential part of our Digital Durham programme. Without it we would have nothing. A modern and effective broadband infrastructure would be of no value without people who use it. We’re building it and we need to encourage them to come. The team is doing a great job, especially Alli, Ashley and Angela who do most of the legwork.
But this is no field of dreams. Our purpose is not to put in infrastructure but to improve the digital nature of the county and region. We need to increase take up for two reasons. From a purely monetary perspective we need to get a return on our investment. The greater the use then the greater the justification is for spending all that money. Yet we started down this road to improve the life chances of the populace. Access to the internet is so important, for commerce, for social interaction and the sharing of information. Higher take up means that more people who could now can and that the overall technical skill level is improving.
We’ve passed forty thousand properties that would not have had access to effective broadband without out intervention. Take up is improving as a percentage even though the number of properties is growing. We have growth on growth. We’re on track to achieve a thirty percent or so take up. It’s looking good yet extrapolation is a fool’s game. Who knows where we will get to over the life of the programme?
Was it Wanamaker who once said that he knew that half of his advertising was wasted? He just didn’t know which half. Well the same rings true of demand stimulation. There is a lot going on. We’ve got poster campaigns, door to door leafleting, press releases, banners that we attach to village ‘gateway’ signs, events and more.
We’ve had lots of events. We’ve held gatherings of the great and good who are working with the digitally excluded. We have held events targeted around specific towns and villages. We have even seen a dramatic take up in an area where the residents campaigned against the installation of a new cabinet which somehow goaded those who wanted it into action. For every force there is an equal and opposite force.
Our activities seem to be working yet what is interesting is that what works in one area does not necessarily work in another. Some of the highest take up is in areas where there has been no intervention and some of the lowest is in areas where a lot of exertion has been made. Yet we know our intervention is making a difference. Before our campaign got underway take up was sluggish and now it is ahead of the curve. Some falls by the wayside and others falls on stony ground.
Is there ever a simple cause and effect? Broadband demand, usage and take up exist in a highly complex and chaotic environment. There are so many factors that can influence the outcome including, social, economic, understanding and desire. All the publicity, the new devices and the media hype is coming together along with our efforts to improve the situation. But we cannot prove causation.
Perhaps half our effort is beneficial. We just don’t know which half.