Recognising that fast, reliable connectivity has never been as important as it is now, with millions of people relying on networks to get back on their feet after the pandemic, and attempting to bridge the digital divide that exists in the UK, BT is to offer fibre broadband and call packages to UK citizens receiving Universal Credit or certain legacy benefits.
Set to launch in June 2021, BT Home Essentials is a social tariff for eligible customers, offering average download speeds of 36Mbps and 700 minutes of calls for £15 a month, said to save them £240 a year compared with an equivalent package. The package is designed to provide support to more than four million UK households on low incomes.
BT believes Home Essentials will meet the demands of the modern home and provide futureproof fibre connectivity at a time when online resources have never been more important. The telco said the launch followed research that found that since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, almost four in five financially vulnerable people were now relying on broadband connectivity to manage household finances.
The research also revealed that nearly a third of Brits had felt more financially vulnerable since the start of the pandemic and a quarter of financially vulnerable people were worried about being cut off if they couldn’t pay their bills. Moreover, three-quarters (74%) of UK households said they would not find it easy to improve their financial situation without connectivity and more than three times as many people said they could not go without broadband (67%) versus public transport (20%).
Other studies have pointed to a worrying digital divide in the UK. While it found that the digital divide was present but narrowing, a study from UK telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that as many as 1.5 million UK homes are still offline. The Ofcom data showed that the proportion of homes without internet access had fallen from 11% in March 2020, when the UK first entered lockdown, to 6% in March 2021.
The bad news is that despite many more homes going online to support activities such as work and education, digital exclusion during lockdown was likely to have been more disempowering than ever. Groups least likely to have home internet access are the over-65s, lower-income households and the most financially vulnerable.
This is a situation that the communications provider community has already taken steps to address. In January 2021, the UK’s telecoms operators – including BT – joined the government’s kids’ mobile access scheme to help families that needed access to connectivity to support their children’s learning needs during lockdown.
In the same month, BT worked with the BBC to remove mobile data charges for BBC Bitesize, the remote learning resource for British students, in a bid to support wider access to education while schools were closed to most pupils during the lockdown.
“We want to help as many people as we can,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division. “BT Home Essentials will be available at half the price of our standard fibre package, helping a potential four million households on low incomes save on bills and stay connected to vital online services.”
UK digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman added: “In today’s digital world, everyone should be able to access fast, reliable and affordable internet, so I’m thrilled that BT is the latest provider to launch new deals for low-income households. We have been working with internet providers to offer affordable broadband tariffs for those struggling with bills to help the UK build back fairer from the pandemic. I hope to see others taking similar action soon.”
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