Digital Divide a Concern, BT Study Finds

Findings revealed that 97 percent of respondents believe developments in communications are good for business in their country, and 92 percent believe they are good for society. But for the first time since the study's inception four years ago, there are concerns expressed that the benefits of communications developments should be available to all citizens, according to BT.

"A small number of opinion formers specifically express concern about a developing inequality of services and technology," the study stated. "A further 3 percent express concern that there is a widening inequality of service and technology available to different users."

The digital divide, as it is now commonly termed, is a significant issue across the globe, not just in Asia-Pacific, where the various industries including consumers, government, and enterprises have to address, said Kristen Hannah, head of external affairs for Asia-Pacific, BT.

"It's something we have to take very seriously here, and anywhere else," Hannah noted.

Businesses should work together with the various government bodies and consumers to understand what is driving the gap, and address the issue, she suggested.

"Governments need to have a good understanding on how the industry works, and (organisations such as British Telecommunications) can help provide that," she said. "I think the industry, in general, can help contribute to the debate."

The study also revealed that there are concerns about the effectiveness of liberalisation, where the main barrier to competition in the communications industry is still believed to be the monopoly of the public telephone and telegraph company (PTT).

However, liberalisation and adapting to the free market is an issue that is declining in relevance to opinion formers, the study found.

Findings also revealed that in Asia-Pacific, "providing a vision of communications" was ranked higher than elsewhere as one of the top three key attributes in evaluating a communications supplier, a find that is hardly surprising, according to an analyst.

"In the communications area, we all know that the ability to scale is very important to users," said Sandra Ng, vice president of communications research, International Data Corp. (IDC) Asia- Pacific.

Users feel more comfortable with vendors and service providers that are able to show roadmaps of their offerings because they then know their suppliers will be there for them when needed, Ng said, noting that this is not the only selection criteria.

There is also widespread agreement that service is key in evaluating communications suppliers, according to the BT study, where secure and reliable service is the most important attribute for opinion formers in assessing communications companies, and understanding customers' needs is second.

Providing value for money is mentioned next, and is most important to legislators, and opinion formers in Europe.

"I don't think you can separate them because providing value for money is part of providing services," Hannah said. "What comes across strongly are that attributes such as security, reliability, and understanding the customers' needs, are more significant than value for money."

"I think the issue there is that price is not the only issue," she said. "It's a basket of benefits that people are looking for now in communications service providers."

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