Research combining census and data on internet use reveals local variations in internet access, informing policy to boost UK’s internet economy – currently more than eight per cent of GDP.


  • Oxford Internet Institute research has been used by communications regulator Ofcom to confirm and complement findings of digital media literacy - supporting policy and regulation.
  • Ofcom used the estimates of internet use, combined with broadband availability and speed data, to assess how broadband had affected users’ take-up of internet.
  • In 2015, the findings were included in the Digital Inclusion Delivery Board report and in the Digital Inclusion Dashboard, which provides an ongoing measure of digital inclusion.
  • The Government’s Digital Engagement group has used the research as one basis for its digital service work, in particular measuring digital inclusion and identifying geographical problem areas – helping Government more effectively deploy internet training resources.
  • The Department for Communities and Local Government used the work to illustrate to local authorities the levels of digital inclusion within their regions.

About the research

Despite Britain being one of the world’s highest internet users, little is known about regional and local patterns and differences of internet access and use. To address this, ESRC-funded research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, analysed internet use across Britain – highlighting a ‘digital divide’ between different geographical areas of the UK.

The research, led by Dr Grant Blank, involved surveying a random sample of 2,000 people of varying ages from across the UK to determine their internet use. The resulting dataset provides a detailed source of information about people’s internet activity, behaviour and attitudes.

By combining internet use and behaviour with local demographic information from Census 2011 data, the researchers were able to estimate and map internet use across Britain. This information could give estimates of usage at local, regional and national levels, which has important implications for policymakers. Businesses are likely to locate to areas with good digital access, thereby boosting local economies. Without knowing something about local-level patterns, it is impossible to identify which area would benefit most from policy intervention to improve access and encourage use.

The findings indicated that, for example, the South East of England had the highest concentration of usage (approximately 89 per cent), while the North West of England was the lowest (59-70 per cent), confirming a ‘digital divide’. Unexpectedly, rural Cornwall was found to have a relatively high usage level, which was put down to European Regional Development Funding for improved broadband connectivity in the county.