Openreach aims to plug digital divide by scrapping broadband connection fees in select homes

BT-owned broadband provision division makes latest step in campaign to address key financial issue that could hinder roll-out of broadband networks capable of supporting the ‘new normal’ of work

In May 2021, when millions of people were struggling to afford fast, reliable connectivity to get back on their feet as the pandemic abated, BT began offering fibre broadband packages to UK citizens who were receiving certain benefits. Now, extending this, its Openreach broadband provision division has launched Connect the Unconnected, which will offer to waive superfast broadband connection fees for customers not currently connected to its network who receive Universal Credit and no other earnings.

When it launched Home Essentials in May 2021, BT said it would meet the demands of the modern home and provide future-proof fibre connectivity at a time when online resources had never been more important. The telco said the launch followed research that found that since the Covid-19 pandemic had begun, almost four in five financially vulnerable people were now relying on broadband connectivity to manage their household finances.

It also said research had revealed that nearly one-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. Also, 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%).

Connect the Unconnected attempts to bridge the digital divide that exists in the UK in broadband provision, helping an estimated one million people throughout the country. Openreach said the rationale behind the campaign was a recent report from UK telecoms regulator Ofcom highlighting the fact that UK households that don’t take communications services because of affordability problems “are likely to experience the greatest harm” and were in danger of being left behind by not having a decent broadband connection, which said Ofcom can provide “better access to education and employment opportunities, as well as wider benefits such as social inclusion”.

Connect the Unconnected is designed to enable communications providers (CPs) that connect new eligible customers to benefit from up to £92 of savings on installation charges for Openreach’s broadband services offering download speeds of 40Mbps and, on a trial basis, selected higher-speed tiers. The network provider said such services are capable of supporting all manner of online activities including messaging, access to cloud services and video calls, which are fundamental in any remote and home working set-up.

The offer is available from 5 October to all CPs and to households that receive Universal Credit with no other earnings, who have not been connected to the Openreach network for the past 90 days. Openreach said CPs can choose to pass savings on to customers in a number of ways, making it cheaper for low-income households to get online up-front or over the course of their contract term.

“We believe everyone in the UK deserves access to decent, reliable and affordable broadband, and we’re working in every community, every day, to help make that a reality – including investing £15bn to build a new ultra-fast, ultra-reliable, full-fibre broadband network to 25 million premises by December 2026,” said Katie Milligan, Openreach MD for customer, commercial and propositions.

“We hope this offer complements the range of existing support from providers across the industry and helps people who aren’t already online to start benefiting from the wealth of information, connectivity and opportunities that great broadband can deliver.”

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