Get the poor online, watchdog urges

The Government is being urged to tout the money-making possibilities of the Interweb in order to get more poor people online.

Consumer research outfit, Consumer Focus, reckons the Government should promote benefits of Internet access that are more relevant to low income consumers, in its Broadband Minded report published today.

Interviewing people earning less than £11,500 a year, Consumer Focus found a "limited motivation" to get online.

According to their report, benefits, or incentives, that consumers on low incomes said would encourage them online include the ability to make money by selling items on sites such as eBay, search for employment or research for educational opportunities, along with the more usual keep-in-touch social notworking sorts of excuses.

Consumers are put off by the cost of getting online but also by fears of what might be lurking out there. Fears about viruses, personal data protection and identity theft, plague Webless consumers as well as fears about how the Web will affect face-to-face communication with friends and family.

"Millions of people are still not online, many of them on low incomes," said Consumer Focus CEO Mike O’Connor, in a statement. "Only by dealing with consumers’ fears, and promoting the online benefits that appeal to those on low incomes will more people be encouraged to get connected."

Last week, Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, launched a national drive to get over seven million more people online within four years. The scheme targets the elderly and the poor. Timms reckons being online is "crucial for participation in the 21st century society".

Consumer Focus thinks that persuading lost souls that they could make a few bob on eBay would be a good way of getting them to spend money they haven't got on a broadband modem and unlimited downloads.

The promise of free music for life might help. Tell them that too.