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Almost one-fifth of Britons 'do not use internet' (bbc.co.uk)
55 points by rwmj 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments

I posted this because I think we tend to live in a bubble where everyone carries multiple internet connected devices on their person at all times (only a slight exaggeration!). But there are over 11 million people in a first world country who don't use the internet at all, and likely many more who have access but it's limited to eg only an old desktop PC or only at work. How should internet-based start-ups react to this?

By leaving those people alone to continue living their lives as they like?

The article says they come from low incomes. Most likely these people don't like being too poor to be able to use the internet.

If it’s by choice, sure. A lot of people either can’t afford it or there’s no Connectivity where they live

96% of UK premises could have "Superfast", not just "Internet" but "Superfast" broadband, which is defined as 30Mbps to the door. But you're correct that a very large fraction of the population don't choose to buy this either because they can't afford it or they don't want it.

There is a Universal Service Obligation, just like in the days of voice telephony, which says the incumbent (British Telecom in most of the country) is legally obliged to offer anybody who wants it at least a minimum service (10Mbps down 1Mbps up asymmetric, so mediocre DSL basically) for a fee. In unusual cases (imagine you live on an otherwise uninhabited island for some reason or up a mountain) you may need to contribute to capital costs for installation.

About 2% of the country are estimated to /live/ in places that can't get USO obligatory service (without new construction) if they asked. Unsurprisingly people who want fast Internet don't tend to buy properties with problems like that, but in principle if you were stubborn you could buy one and demand they fix it to 10Mbps up 1Mbps down.

So, whatever it is the problem is not Connectivity.

> 96% of UK premises could have "Superfast", not just "Internet" but "Superfast" broadband, which is defined as 30Mbps to the door.

Ha ha, that's hilarious. Out here in the real world although the maps show that I'm getting 4G mobile and "superfast"[1] broadband, the reality is no mobile at all and 20 Mbps when it's not raining and the BT culverts aren't waterlogged. When they are waterlogged, not much internet at all.

[1] Where "superfast" means laughably slow compared to most other first world countries.

Isn't that USO voluntary?

> In unusual cases (imagine you live on an otherwise uninhabited island for some reason or up a mountain) you may need to contribute to capital costs for installation.

I agree with you, but this bit doesn't really describe how many people need to pay for broadband infrastructure installation.


The USO is mandatory but isn't funded yet. So, right now the regulator would struggle to rationalise say, fining the operator for not meeting it when they aren't given any money or any means to raise revenue to provide it. But in principle if you can imagine the British government ever doing anything again except arguing about Brexit they might get around to it. Don't hold your breath.

Those are all goals and numbers thrown around by politicians and ISPs, though. They're not reality.

Just a couple of days ago I heard on BBC Radio Devon that some broadband provider in that area got its license revoked because it didn't meet its commitments.

It's like how the American cell phone companies claim to provide LTE access to 95% of Americans, yet somehow there are still several tens of millions of people on slow 4G, 3G, or with zero cell service at all.

-shrug- Doing work only changes the facts, which I reported. We can't change what you believe, that has to be left to you to do.

One of my friends works in IT, he's like third line support for some big international outfit. He's a Windows guy but still, you'd expect he knows what he's doing. One day he complained about how shitty his broadband is. So I asked why he doesn't have FTTC. "It's not available". OK, so I punch in his landline phone number and the system says of course yeah like almost everybody else in my entire city he can have FTTC.

Yes, it costs more money and that might make it unattractive to some people, but it's right there, I'd guess it took maybe 5-10 days from that conversation until he had FTTC instead of ADSL.

>He's a Windows guy but still, you'd expect he knows what he's doing.

Weird flex but ok.

> or there’s no Connectivity where they live

Which unfortunately in the UK is an issue. I have no mobile phone reception at home (20 miles as the crow flies from Charing Cross station in London), so if my only access to the internet was through a phone then I might be one of these people.

It’s tough because old people are generally more intelligent and wiser than average and have more free time, it’s not strictly speaking about accessibility, learning, stuff like that.

Personally I believe you get older and desire a certain emotional / stimulation product that software does quite a bad job at delivering.

Like Facebook helps validate your opinions but not by design, other old people just post stuff that their old friends will see. Email helps you feel busy but it’s not the same sense as being The Chairman of Your Company. Photos let you see your family but it’s not the same as lording over everyone in your big house on a holiday.

I’m not trying to cast these feelings of power as something negative, just trying to characterize something that Snapchat and Instagram are very good at delivering for young people (power by sexualization) that does not at all appeal to old people.

Startups generally don’t serve old people not because of lack of access, that’s more about whether the company can have a VC growth trajectory. If that’s the limit of your point, well just advertise on the radio, CNN and church instead of Facebook ads. But the more important point is how to make something for this population they actually want.

I think old people are not more or less intelligent than average people, they are probably average; but I agree that many are wiser than average. I think many people in old age are sadly very lonely, with much less connection to society and I think they'd love to find a connection to other people. I think in my generation, people who use a computer frequently and were born after 1960? say, they will be able to form connections on the net.

While I'm just spouting opinions here, let me add that I think startups don't look at the needs of older people because they don't know about their lives well enough to think about problems that need solving.

I think old people are not more or less intelligent than average people, they are probably average

We gain a substantial part of our intelligence through experience. A 17-year-old is more intelligent than a seven-year-old in large part because of his experience.

It seems only logical that someone who has lived twice as long as I have and has had twice as many experiences and twice as long to learn should be smarter than I am.

To me you are describe wisdom, not intelligence. But I agree that time earned knowledge is very useful and valuable.

There’s a pretty big jump in brain development between 7 and 17 wtf is this comment thread.

I expect higher quality, fact based commentary from hn.

This whole thread read like something off a trash subreddit.

It's mostly about accessibility though. If something can provide a lot of value, but is inaccessible for people using an ipad with voice typing, it's the same as if doesn't exist at all for those people. And since most things are like that, the overall value of an internet connected ipad for them is not that high.

> How should internet-based start-ups react to this?

Should they? This reads to me like "how should car washes react to people who don't have a car?"

If I owned a car wash and people in my city were abandoning cars, why wouldn't I need to react to that trend? If my customer base is shrinking, I would certainly need to reexamine the business and possibly look into alternative uses for the property.

I think accessibility should definitely be more of a focus in tech companies, as the current trend is fairly poor.

That's different, this would only apply if there was an observed trend of the population abandoning the internet.

A lot of public services and utilities have shifted their customer facing operations to the web and the very people who struggle to interact with these services are often the ones who need them the most.

Factor in that a lot of these web-based services are poorly designed and badly constructed and it is no wonder that some people get frustrated or are easily swindled.

Local council sites tend to be the worst, in my experience, with unfathomable navigation and broken forms being the most common problems.

My dad often asks 'why can't I do x?' and my usual answer is that the website is sh1t, there is nothing you can do about it.

A lot of work goes into making GOV.UK sites accessible to people who aren't au fait with technology. From the design of form elements and wizards to the extreme care in choosing the correct language.

It's a huge project and driven by user research and testing. Best part, almost all of it happens in the open



The technology and design should eventually filter down to localised services.

Lmao the local councils have been left to run their own web services and they are painfully backwards and outdated, payment portals for council tax from the early 2000’s, sites that are not responsive by default, dead/missing links.

From what I have seen they are left to do their own thing a little too much.

Yeah, we can lead the horse to water.

A dev can get a Node or Rails app with all the correct assets and templates running in two minutes. C# and Django in a bit longer.

Most of the things they'll need to build are already there, well-engineered and tested.

Some councils have longstanding contracts with local companies or just have their heads in the sand. Not much more we can do.

Some work on this has actually been started


Edit: just read the assessor's comments, pretty damning. Doesn't sound like the project delivered much - pretty sure I could do more in an afternoon

It's a long time coming Pete.

"A lot of public services and utilities have shifted their customer facing operations to the web and the very people who struggle to interact with these services are often the ones who need them the most."

Well, that's the thing isn't it? Personally, I think I'd be happy, and probably better off, with an internet that consisted of email, USENET, and Amazon. (maybe eBay, although I could do without it). Unfortunately, the rest of the world and it's needs and addictions tends to drag you along.

I agree, in principal, but amazon's retail operation succeeds because it works and puts no barriers in front of people who want to buy stuff. One might think this is 'basic internet 101' but the majority of other retail sites prove otherwise?

There's scope for pretty massive sampling errors with any door to door survey like this - you only end up polling people who are home (presumably during the day), that answer their door to strangers (and not screen via camera) and are willing to answer a whole bunch of questions.

That may be representative of the wider society, but amongst my acquaintances it is not.

I don't believe they're going door to door and knocking on random doors. It's not said explicitly but it's implied that they're sending postal mail and following up with people who respond for in-home interviews.

The methodology is outlined here:


Mail wasn't involved except for picking random addresses from the list of known postal addresses. The interviewers went door-to-door. They also chose a household resident over 14 at random, not just the door answerer. And a 50% successful response rate is pretty good for a random survey.

Really, though, I wish people who question survey methodology would mention specific problems with the methodology.

One problem I see is that part of the weighting is based on "ACORN" categories, which aren't well-defined and remind me of junk sold by marketing companies. Of course, I assume the data's based on actual demographics, so it might be good for weighting even if it's bad at explaining.

Where does it say that they chose a household resident over 14 at random, not just the door answerer and what would that process even look like?

In the methodology PDF linked by another commenter up this chain[0]:

>At each address respondents for interview were selected by asking the person who answered the door if it would be possible to interview the person normally resident at that household ages 14 or over with the next birthday.

If birthdays weren't known by the door-answerer, then the interviewer picked a subject by first letter of the first name. But that only happened in 5% of cases.

[0] https://oxis.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/methodology/

Ah, yes. Thank you - I didn't see the pdf.

> it's implied that they're sending postal mail and following up with people who respond for in-home interviews.

I've read that section a few times now and I can't see even a hint of that implication. Is it because addresses are chosen randomly from the Postal Address File?

I suspect that sampling method isn't especially better at representing the entirety of "Britons" compared to the door-to-door method described by OP.

"They're sending postal mail and following up with people who respond"

If so then even worse. They'd only be working with people that take snail mail seriously.

Every important document ever in my life arrived via "snail mail" so I can't really imagine anyone not taking it seriously. Except maybe some odd internet whiz-kid with a propeller hat.

That's the rub I think. Would this be an "important document" in everyone's opinion? For me it wouldn't, it'd go straight in the bin.

Please elaborate. How big is that subset of people compared with other candidate subsets?

They'd only be working with people that take snail mail seriously.

If you have tax problems, the I.R.S. will not e-mail you. It will not call you. It will not text you. It will not contact you on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Slack, WhatsApp, or any other digital method.

It will contact you via snail mail.

Serious people take snail mail seriously.

Of course, but a letter saying "we're going to take your bling away" is likely to elicit a different response to "we want to ask you some questions about your internet usage"

This is the point I was trying to make. This survey goes in the bin along with all of the ads sent to me.

There's scope for pretty massive sampling errors with any door to door survey like this

Not necessarily.

While it's common for people on HN to eschew the results of surveys because of presumed sample bias, that's rarely what happens.

I took a couple of statistics classes in college that spelled out the math involved, and essentially if you survey enough people within a population of a certain size, unintentional bias gets reduced to the point where it becomes a non-factor.

It's all very interesting if you're into math. I am not, but statistics courses were required for my journalism degree.

("Unintentional" meaning there is such a thing as "intentional" bias. For example, if you're deliberately surveying Toyota owners about Toyotas, or something like that.)

I too have taken a couple of college statistics classes. I think you're misunderstanding/misrepresenting things a bit here. Yes, the internet at large loves to dismiss survey results for any and all perceived flaw, no matter how minute. That said, they aren't always wrong.

In this particular case, everything you've said is true only if you assume a reasonably random sample. If your sampling method itself introduces biases, no increase in sample size is going to eliminate those biases.

I'm not enough of a statistician to feel particularly confident in passing judgment over the sampling method here, but I think it's fair to question it, despite the fact that I'm ordinarily far more likely to take the statistics at face value than the average internet commenter.

Yes, I don't know the maths but this study surveyed 2,000 people from a pool of around 54 million (18% of Britain's 66 million people are under 16 [1]). I don't think those numbers qualify as being enough people within a population of a certain size to avoid unintentional bias.

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populati...

2,000 might actually be oversampling for 66,000,000 people.

When the United States had about 300,000,000 people the number for statistical veracity was around 975.

Again, my statistics classes were a long time ago, so the numbers I remember are inexact. But once I groked the math, it was surprising how few people you needed to interview.

Yes, there is a comment further down about how population size doesn't matter, that all you need is a sample size of around 1,000. Fascinating. I stand corrected.

I would suggest reading the original report. https://oxis.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2019/0...

Quite interesting to see that the majority of people who don't want to join the internet is because of choice and worry that they will lose their privacy.

Anyone done a study of how people who don't use the internet usually vote in elections and generally feel socially about the rest of the world?

Statistically, the older you are in the UK the more conservative you are. It's something like 17% 18-28 but 75% 60-70.

The privacy worries are weird. In my experience this is the same group that love to use loyalty/reward cards, coupons etc. To me, those are far more intrusive to my privacy than a properly set up internet connection.

So probably the privacy concerns come from over blown news articles and reporting about latest passwords leak, information leak, hacking, exploit and any other word that remotely sounds like it's related to the internet.

You should watch Sky News sometimes talk about the latest security problem, they do not take a balanced approach to the reporting.

Yes, the whole privacy concern aspect did stick out. More so than what the BBC ran with.

One aspect is that they describe themselves as not using the internet. There might be some Grandma who says that while writing a text message to her family. Does the survey make clear what "using the internet" means?

Does the survey make clear what "using the internet" means?

It doesn't state explicitly, but it does not appear that text messaging, or anything you could do with a feature phone was counted. The term used in the study was "online," not "using the internet."

The study looked at things like "buy products," "pay bills," "listen to music," "watch movies," "follow celebrities," "post videos," and "buy groceries."

I wonder whether the "internet" vs "web" distinction was made in the survey, or whether it got lost in translation to the BBC article.

I'd agree, my grandmother never uses the _internet_, my grandfather used to use just email (probably once a week), but never used the _web_.

Honest question: is it really worth it to try to change them?

For people older than 60 years the internet is still so new that many still might think it is a "fad". It will be very, very hard to teach new tricks to old dogs. As the article says:

> "There are a lot of things about the internet that get less useful as you get older," he said.

OTOH, for people younger than 20, the proportion of not connected will most certainly be very low. As the article says:

> "Virtually everyone is online before age 50," Dr Blank told the BBC

I suspect that the effort to get the last and very reluctant old people online is just not worth it.

> "Non-users are older, proportionately less well-educated and have lower incomes," said Dr Grant Blank, survey research fellow at the OII, who oversaw the project.

> Non-users, said Dr Blank, were those who did not go online via any means - either phone or computer. The proportion of those falling into this category grew as people aged, he said.

The main welfare benefit in the UK at the moment is Universal Credit which is an online-only benefit. You apply for it online. All communication is done online.

If non-users are not able to even use computers then they can't access the benefits they are entitled to.

A lot of people have been made redundant from Job Centre Plus (the public facing offices of the Department for Work and Pensions) and so the help just isn't available from DWP. It seems a lot of that help work has been off-loaded onto libraries which would be fine if they'd been given a funding bump to cope with it, but they haven't.

As a Librarian I spend most of my time helping people with universal credit: https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/universal-credit-claimants-libra...

Internet use is very fad-like. The general public does not get on the net just to play with DNS resolution and TCP connections. For a couple years "use the net" for the general public meant certain flash in the pan individual sites; email (only used by old people, according to Koreans), ICQ, myspace, FB, yik yak, now I guess insta is momentarily where its at, but history shows that'll be forgotten like livejournal by the early 2020s.

Haranguing people as per the article about "The wide range of good health information might prove useful for many" sounds like haranguing people to subscribe to cable TV because CSPAN will make them a better citizen; thats beautiful social status signalling, but lets be realistic, for the masses the internet is for pr0n and fad site of the month. Much like people who don't have a TV are not missing valuable educational programming, they're mostly missing sitcoms and pro sports. A little less time wasting and brain rotting will never hurt anyone.

It'll be inconvenient for paying bills or customer service or whatever, but by design that has always been inconvenient so whats the difference?

> For people older than 60 years

I think the threshold is higher now, I'd say 70 years+.

60 year olds were 40 when the Internet started to become a thing and were in their late 20s when personal computing took off in the 80s. Those are quite receptive ages still.

But also

> Earlier versions of the survey found the 50-plus drop-off in net use had persisted for a long time, said Dr Blank, suggesting it was not tied to a particular age group that grew up without the net.

Given that the different survey results didn't really agreec on the basics, I'm not sure the correlation means much. But if that is true it would definitely make it more worth it.

I've just gone through the decline and death of an elderly relative.

She was able to use a Mac and browse the web a decade ago. Then she began to forget how to do things she'd been proficient at a few years earlier. In the past four years her ability to use the computer dropped to zero, and attempting to get her onto an iPad instead failed (it was too complicated/required too much learning -- I'd left it too late, not recognizing the early signs of decline).

At the time of death she had medium to advanced vascular dementia; the point is, cognitive decline in old age is a real thing, and people lose the ability to do stuff they knew how to do at an earlier age.

My mum and dad are in their sixties and use tech heavily. I'd say 70s, maybe 75+ish.

> The detailed in-home survey of almost 2,000 Britons found that 18% described themselves as non-users.

I'm really curious what the methodology is here. "detailed in-home" suggests it did something more than just ask people, but then it says they "described themselves" as non-users. If you asked my mum she'd say she doesn't use the internet, but if you sat down in her house with her you'd see she uses Facebook and WhatsApp on her phone to communicate with friends and family, and occasionally accidentally clicks a link that opens a browser. But she'll never open a browser, doesn't actively use her email and would consider herself not to use the internet.

My first thought is of course surprise and shock that this number is so high.

My second thought is this is about the same number of British people who are below the official poverty line[1], and of course food is a higher priority than internet.

(It’s still shocking that the number is so high).

[1] https://m.spiegel.de/international/europe/poverty-in-notting...

I remember in the early to mid 1990s when many were amazed at the Internet this new thing called the Web.

At that time I read that in the early 1990s only about 5% of the entire world were using the Internet home user would be using it via dial-up. But the shocking part was how many people in the world at that time did not even have a telephone. I can't recall the percentage but it was quite high.

This shouldn't surprise anybody. Anecdotally speaking, most old folks I know (of) watch television, read physical newspapers, and call/write/see people. What do they need the internet for? I'm -- if anything -- surprised the number isn't higher.

Or perhaps it's better to phrase it "over 80% of Britons use internet".

Downvoted because, if you have a point to make, you forgot to include it in the post.

Clickbait headline: "Almost one-fifth of Britons 'do not use internet'"

Non-clickbait version: "over 80% of Britons use internet"

How is that not clear? 80% internet usage is pretty good, not bad as the headline and article suggest.

WhoTF is the Oxford Internet Institute?[0]

I understand I'm just a dumb American, but is the OII something anyone knows anything about?


ac.uk is reserved for academic institutions in the UK (akin to .edu for Americans).

ox.ac.uk is Oxford university.

OII is a project stemming from this university. Something like this is akin to MITs IPRI[0]

[0]: https://internetpolicy.mit.edu/

It's a department in the University of Oxford. Unlike all those "Oxford School of English" type of places, this one is actually noteworthy and part of the real university.

Thank you. It looks like what I think BuzzFeed looks like but I was wrong.

The web page you have linked literally has "A multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet" at the top of the page.

The internal organisation of Oxford is definitely weird (I did my doctorate at the OII and most of the university didn't know we existed or thought we were part of computer science) but it's not that obscure.

mea culpa. And thank you.

This is like the time I stood up in class and said "why do I care what X had to say about this?" not knowing that X was the president of the university.

It would be nice to know how they did this survey, I'm presuming it wasn't an online survey. But us Brits do love to lie to people doing surveys, just to get away from them. Indeed, had they done this as an online survey - they would still get people saying they do not use the internet.

> the OII survey visited people in their homes and gathered a more detailed view of Britons' online lives.

Large surveys used to be done via the phone. I think they're moving over to online surveys now.

Id be more concerned about the self selecting nature. There must be quite a limited demographic willing to sign on to Yougov say, and complete surveys for a very small financial reward.

More so when the sample sizes will be within a timeframe (during 9-5 usually) as well as being limited in size (very small samples given the scale) and in this case 2,000 people is about 0.0003% of the population they project those results upon.

It's an increasing struggle to get a good sample for surveys, as the rate of people refusing has been going up continuously since surveys were invented. This has methodological implications for survey researchers that are quite serious. Some things aren't a problem, though. Survey companies definitely work outside 9-5, and the 2,000 population sample turns out to be more than enough: the sample size needed for a particular degree of statistical confidence is independent of the population size (except for very small populations) and remarkably few people are needed for a good sample. 2000 is actually pretty large for survey research, where ~1000 is pretty standard.

There's nothing like UK election polling for shaking confidence in getting representative samples from the UK population.


shows that two polls this week, each of ~2000 people, found the Conservatives to have either a 1% or a 12% lead over Labour.

The British opinion polls are all over the place at the moment, yes. It's very likely that these are not sampling issues, though. British politics is currently in a period of realignment with the position of all parties in flux.

Election polling relies heavily on turnout modeling: it's not enough to know what people's opinions are to predict elections, but also which of those people are likely to vote. And the different polling companies have very different models for that, and other 'artistic' parts of the modeling which aren't strictly related to their polling sample. It certainly doesn't imply problems for survey research as a whole (though, as I said, there are increasingly long-term challenges to the while edifice).

Please fix the title, the real number is 18% (of 2000 people surveyed)

Direct link to report:


very interesting numbers nonetheless.

is that not almost one fifth?

I thought parent comment was quibbling as well but it’s actually closer to one-sixth and surprisingly this does affect my reaction to the information. So I do think 18% would be a better title. The article does get there in the second line at least (but not before saying “almost 20%” for no reason other than to exaggerate, I guess.)

Assuming the survey methodology allows us to scale this number to the whole population, it would be nearly 12 million people (0.18 * 66 million = 11.88 million). Quite a staggering number no matter what percentage it is.

You included all the two year olds in your 66 million.

Very true. Do you know a figure for UK pop above the age of 8? I can't find that with some quick searching.

I don't know what 1/6 is as a percentage off the top of my head though, whereas I know that 1/5 = 20%. So either the journalist didn't know either, or thought that enough of the population didn't know and that 1/5 was more informative.

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