We don’t often think of the internet as an essential service, but between Netflix, FaceTime calling, working online, and studying, it has supported many of us over the past 18 months. But for many others, mobile data or broadband is a luxury they can’t afford, as the average family’s broadband bill is now £328 a year.
As many as seven million people in the UK are unable to get internet access at home. With life increasingly online, these ‘digitally excluded’ people may struggle to participate in everyday activities, such as applying for jobs, chatting with friends and family, or accessing online classes.
To address the issue, Virgin Media O2 is partnering with the Good Things Foundation, a digital skills charity, to launch the first-ever National Database. The “food bank for data” will donate free mobile data to thousands of people living in digital poverty — meaning when a person can’t afford a secure Internet connection that meets their needs, the charity said.
Virgin is kicking off by donating 7.5 million GB of O2 mobile data worth £12.5 million – enough for 319 million hours of internet use. They aim to help more than 200,000 people online by the end of 2023.
Helen Milner, head of the Good Things Foundation, said: “Having enough data in our increasingly digital society is not a nice thing to have; it is absolutely essential. If you’re not online, you can’t save money on products and services; help your kids learn and apply at home…
“Now is the time for us to come together to tackle the problem of data poverty in the UK once and for all.”
The Database is now being trialed with a small group of organizations before being rolled out nationwide in November. A network of 5,000 community groups across the UK will distribute the free data in the form of data vouchers and SIM cards. Digital skills training will also be available to help people navigate the online world.
Lutz Schüler, Chief Executive Officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “The pandemic has escalated the UK data crisis like never before – and with many millions of people facing digital exclusion, now is the time to come together and bridge the gap. digital area. inequality.”
Virgin Media also wants other mobile networks to donate and hopes the Database will become a long-term solution to data poverty. Schüler added: “Our industry has done remarkable things in recent months to keep customers connected when they needed it most, but it doesn’t stop there… We want to build a lasting legacy from the pandemic.”
The company has a number of other programs for those in need, including an Essential Broadband service that costs just £15 a month for those on benefits, and Help for Home Learners, which sends free laptops and data to schoolchildren learning at home.
You can’t apply directly to the scheme yet, but after the pilot phase ends this fall, you can find your nearest participating center here: https://www.onlinecentresnetwork.org/ournetwork/find-centre#/map
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