W2i London: Challenges Ahead for UK's E-Community Vision

Building digital communities in the UK, or even in Europe, is still mired in issues ranging from technology and choice of appropriate business models to skepticism.

by / September 28, 2006
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Despite all the brouhaha that United Kingdom's Digital Strategy initiative generated when it was announced almost 18 months back, the Wireless Internet Institute (W2i) conference that concluded on September 26 in London, revealed that local authorities in UK and even Europe are still grappling with various issues that could make the effort of creating a city or nationwide digital infrastructure to better-manage cities and communities, easier said than done.

Of course, aficionados of Europe's and UK's digital communities efforts may jump up to rattle names of at least a dozen local governments that are supposedly "bubbling" with pilot projects or have already successfully implemented a couple. But the impression one gets after attending the two-day brain-storming session is that the pursuit of building digital communities in UK, or even in Europe, is still mired with issues starting from technological problems to choice of appropriate business models to even skepticisms.

The gap is stark in UK considering that fact that it is at the forefront of Europe's digital communities efforts and even has articulated policies and programs in place. As they say, "if it happens in Europe it has to happen in UK first". But the fact is, barring the Westminister's wireless city project it has nothing significant to talk of just yet.

Still the driving force behind UK's digital efforts through the policy document called to "Connecting the UK: the Digital Strategy" released in April 2005 is worth noting. Riding on highest figure in the land in terms of possessing one of the most advanced and most competitive mobile phone markets in the world, and one of the most competitive broadband markets in the G7 that boasts of over 90 percent of the population with broadband services, the government has decided to adopt the power of information and communication and technology to bridge the digital divide and to change the way its people work, live and play.

The Government is even putting money where its mouth is. For instance through one of the Strategy initiatives called Digital Challenge launched in December last year, local communities were invited to create a world class exemplar of a "wired up community". Eighteen regional winners were chosen from 79 entries, and on July 12 at a ceremony in London 10 finalists were given