The UK broadband sector has seen major and independent providers rolling out gigabit-capable infrastructures across the country, especially in places never previous touched by ultra-fast connectivity – but a digital divide still exists. To address this issue in 2022, UK digital inclusion charity the Good Things Foundation has entered into a partnership with the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA), the trade association for the nation’s broadband providers.
The Good Things Foundation leads a national network for digital inclusion – the Online Centres Network – providing a range of free services (advice, learning resources, collateral and online learning platforms) that enable community organisations to build digital inclusion into the social support they provide for vulnerable people in their local area.
The partners say digital inclusion remains a significant challenge in the UK, with more than 10 million people lacking basic digital skills, disproportionately affecting those with low household income or low educational attainment. Also, they say the problem was magnified by the response to Covid-19 and the UK’s reliance on good-quality connectivity for work, education, entertainment and to keep in touch with friends and family.
In a study released in September 2021, in an interim update to its annual Connected Nations report, UK communications regulator Ofcom found that despite the encouraging signs in terms of the roll-out of full-fibre and the higher-rated packages, about 134,000 UK properties were still unable to get a decent connection, fuelling fear of a continuation of the digital divide.
“Over two million households have upgraded their internet package since the pandemic began, and broadband firms are rushing to meet the UK’s need for speed,” said Yih-Choung Teh, group director, strategy and research, at Ofcom. “With full-fibre networks being built at a record rate, the UK’s networks are being made fit for the future. But our figures show work is still needed to get decent broadband to remote parts of the UK.”
UK providers have taken steps to alleviate such concerns. Also in September 2021, broadband provider Openreach launched its Connect the Unconnected programme, offering to waive superfast broadband connection fees for customers not currently connected to its network who receive Universal Credit and no other earnings.
Other providers offer a social tariff to financially vulnerable customers or provide low-cost entry-level broadband packages – and “unlimited” data is generally provided as standard by fixed broadband providers. Also, many ISPA members donate free data or devices to charities or work in local communities through schools and voluntary organisations.
The Good Things Foundation and ISPA will seek to build on and complement these efforts by raising the current level of support across the sector.
In selecting Good Things Foundation as ISPA’s charity partner of 2022, the association has committed to encouraging its members to donate used devices to be cleaned of data, refurbished and distributed to digitally excluded people who need them. It is also setting up a dedicated donation page for financial donations for members who want to donate money instead of, or as well as, devices, and is raising awareness of the challenges of digital exclusion within industry members, and how they can help through fundraising and device donation.
“Digital exclusion remains a huge issue in the UK as we emerge from the pandemic, with many still isolated without the skills and connectivity they need to thrive,” said Helen Milner, CEO of the Good Things Foundation. “We know that businesses – particularly broadband providers – have a huge role to play in helping us to close this divide, which is why we are so pleased to be working with the ISPA on this exciting partnership that we hope will have a significant impact.”
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