A NEW study reveals that Powys has the widest digital divide in Wales with 20 per cent of the county's population living offline.

A fifth of the more than 130,000 residents of the county are reported not to have used the internet in the last three months, or never at all.

With the population of Powys over the age of 60, higher than the national average in England and Wales, the digital divide between generations is likely to be contributing to this trend.

So too could the widely reported issue of average broadband internet speeds in the county, which are 39.5 per cent slower than the UK average of 32.89 Mbps.

Research undertaken by Reading-based web development agency Rouge Media suggests the 20.3 per cent of Powys people living offline is up from 14.4 per cent in 2019. See data source.

Over recent years there’s been a growing focus on so-called 'internet non-users' as part of the debate about the digital divide and its impact on inclusion. And the pandemic has exposed the digital divide like never before as many vital services moved online.  

According to ONS data analysed by Rouge Media, 249,000 people over the age of 16 in Wales have never used the internet, or hadn’t used it in the past three months, compared to 262,000 in 2019 before the pandemic. 

This is a year-on-year decrease of 13,000 people and the lowest since records began. However, during the same time period the percentage of residents in Powys living offline rose from 15,000 residents to 22,000 – the highest of any area in Wales and third highest in the UK. 

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Andy Woods, Rouge Media director, said: “It’s been really interesting to study the digital divide in Wales and the progress being made in reducing the number of residents living offline, especially at a time when internet access has never been so important.  

“It’s clear that while positive progress has been made, an enduring digital divide remains nationwide which appears to be impacting older residents and poorer households unequally.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has made this issue more pressing to address, so that every resident who is digitally capable is able to benefit from the internet.” 

Since 2017, Powys has shown progress in reducing its digital divide, with lapsed or internet non-users falling from 16.4 per cent (18,000 people) to 14.4 per cent (15,000) in 2019.

However, the number of lapsed and internet non-users in Powys has remained consistently higher than the national average for four years running – standing at 9.8 per cent in 2020 as the country entered into the emergency phase of the pandemic.

This means many residents were left unable to access important online services or benefit from communication apps during the first lockdown.

Ranked second place is the central valleys area, with 15.3 per cent of its population living offline in 2020. The Gwent valleys follows in third place – 14 per cent of local residents lived without regular or any internet access in 2020.

As the portion of the population who were born before the internet becomes smaller and the first generation of  'digital natives' reach adulthood, the digital divide is expected to close further.

But enduring social and economic issues will remain, preventing people from using or benefiting from the internet fully. 

While unemployment rates have remained at a historical low during the pandemic so far, the claimant count rate in Wales – reflecting those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit and currently searching for work rose by over 100 per cent, from 58,600 in March 2020 to 121,800 in August 2020, surpassing levels seen after the global financial crisis.