Access to Easy, Affordable and Secure personal Audio-Visual Communications

For many people, one of the great revelations of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the value of using audio-visual communications for family and personal communication. People have not only been able to maintain their usual contacts during Covid, but some have even been encouraged to reach out to people they haven’t talked to face-to-face for years. They have found that this technology addresses multiple needs for contact, comfort and family relations, and even for medical attention and counselling. The ‘digital divide’ is often characterised simply as a lack of access to information, but the evidence from Covid-19 is that voice-plus-video personal communication is at least as important as access to information. Some would argue that social cohesion makes personal communication with friends and family a critical capability. This capability should be available to all, pandemic or not. Increased geographical and social mobility increases the need for quality personal communication-at-a-distance. But for many people there are obstacles. Not everyone has robust broadband internet access, and many can’t afford it. Not everyone possesses a suitable end-user device. The lack of interconnectivity between competing systems means that people have to load and learn multiple applications to reach all their contacts. People are increasingly aware that the Internet is not a safe place for people who have limited understanding of the technology. Some applications just are too complex for people who need something just as easy as the traditional telephone: not just ‘older people’ but anyone who for any reason has not yet come to grips with this technology. There are things that occupy people’s lives outside the internet, so we shouldn’t expect everyone to invest lots of time, energy and money to access what can and should be available as a safe, affordable and usable universal service.




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