Treat the internet like a natural resource

There are some things that require a permanent internet connection. One cannot listen to internet radio, watch YouTube or take part in a video conference, without a permanent, live, high-quality internet connection. But unlimited broadband access is not something people can take for granted.

With a large proportion of the country’s population at home, everyone is now relying 100% on their home broadband to school children and get office work done. There are some parts of the country that still lack an adequate level of broadband. According to the Office for National Statistics, in January to February 2020, 96% of households in Great Britain had internet access, up from 93% in 2019 and 57% in 2006 when comparable records began. What happens to the 4% of households who do not have the internet?

In the last few weeks, the digital divide has been highlighted once again with kids no longer able to attend school. Sadly, it is the poorest families that are hardest hit by the lockdown. Without home broadband, these families face the prospect of either using extortionate mobile internet charges to ensure their children can take lessons online, or go without something essential.

Online priorities

Those fortunate to have a job that has enabled them to work from home during the lockdowns, are now not only balancing homeschooling with their work – they are also time-sharing their home internet connection. Who gets priority? Online lesson or a business meeting via a video conference call?

Just like natural resources, the internet is not unlimited. It certainly is not set up to enable every school to stream their own online lessons to every child. It works very well as a broadcast channel, enabling a few content distributors to reach many, many subscribers. This is Netflix’s model and how YouTube runs.

In March during the UK’s first lockdown, Joe Wicks became a household name, with his live YouTube fitness classes. Why limit this to fitness. Can teachers leverage existing online material more effectively, rather than try to recreate a school classroom online? Can a school teacher act as a curator of online educational content? How can BBC Bitesize or the mass of classes readily available on YouTube supplement remote learning?

Beyond the debate around online lessons, accounting for limited internet access is something business and IT leaders need to consider. Is it absolutely necessary to maintain connectivity for the functionality of their applications. What happens when connectivity is poor or intermittent; what happens if, for some reason, the connection goes down?

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