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Barcelona pilot programme narrows in on the digital divide

09 July 2021

by Sarah Wray

Barcelona is running a pilot project to help inform a city-wide digital inclusion policy.

The Connectem Barcelona (Barcelona Connects) programme will run from September for a year with 400 households in the Trinitat Nova neighbourhood of the Nou Barris district, which is one of Barcelona’s lowest-income areas and has been hit hard by unemployment during the pandemic.

Laia Bonet, Barcelona

Laia Bonet, Barcelona’s Deputy Mayor for the 2030 Agenda, the Digital Transition and International Relations, told Cities Today: “We want to generate evidence on what kind of policies and public interventions work best to tackle the digital divide. It is a fairly new form of inequality and there is not much evidence-based knowledge about it, especially in an urban context.”

To test the impact of different approaches, some participants will receive internet connectivity and devices only, while others will also receive training to improve digital literacy.

Bonet said: “If you provide laptops and an internet connection to families, you are tackling the material dimensions of the digital divide in an effective way. But the key issue for us here is whether this is enough to close the digital divide and consider this person digitally included, or whether other support in terms of training and capacity is needed.”

The pilot follows a survey carried out in autumn 2020. It revealed that Barcelona’s connectivity gap has narrowed significantly since 2016 but it also highlighted the nuances within the digital divide which still need to be addressed, with age, income and education found to affect online access.

Defining digital inclusion

The survey found that the vast majority of households in Barcelona – 92 percent – now have fixed internet access, and 84 percent have fibre broadband. Of the eight percent that don’t have a connection, just over half are people aged 74 and over.

People with a university education and those in employment are more likely to have an internet connection.

Two-thirds of those without an internet connection said it’s because they don’t go online or don’t know how to use the internet. Just one percent of those surveyed do not have internet access due to affordability.

Bonet said all these are important issues to address as use of the internet is becoming “almost an obligation, not a choice” in society. This has been accelerated during the pandemic as more services have moved online.

The survey also found that during lockdowns, low-income families struggled more to work and study remotely due to lack of access to enough devices, adequate connectivity, or the necessary training.

“Digital inequalities amplify social inequalities,” Bonet commented.

Collaboration

The pilot is funded by the city but includes private partners such as telecom operators, device providers and educational institutions.

Michael Donaldson, Barcelona’s Commissioner for Digital Innovation, e-Government and Good Governance, said it’s important that all stakeholders take an active role in the trial as closing the digital divide is a city-wide effort.

“They will be involved in the problem and see it first-hand,” he said.

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My City, My Life

Valérie Plante, Mayor of Montréal

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