(Cybertech) – UK internet and mobile providers have been targeted by politicians as needing to help more during the latest national lockdown.
Data limits need to be lifted for educational use, they say, as parents of disadvantaged pupils struggle with increased mobile and broadband bills as they attempt to homeschool their children online. Thankfully though, many providers have already signed up to schemes or have unilaterally implemented new services to help.
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer said that the cost of data is “a big problem” during a BBC Radio 4 programme on Tuesday.
“We’re asking people to endure very tough restrictions. And there has to be the other side of that contract,” he explained.
“Everybody needs to try and make this work. And that includes the companies that can take away the charging for data. It’s a serious situation.”
However, Three, EE, Virgin Mobile, Smarty, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile are already doing just that, through a Department for Education scheme to help disadvantaged kids without access to home broadband. In the case of the former, it is even providing free unlimited data upgrades: “Three UK will provide unlimited data upgrades to disadvantaged school children in England to ensure that they are able to continue with their studies, as many schools across the country move to remote learning,” it said in a statement sent to Cybertech.
“In a partnership with the Department of Education, where a child is identified as not having internet access at home, their school can request free, additional data through the DFE’s Get Help with Technology programme. The unlimited data will be applied to the end of the school year in July.”
ISPs are also doing their bit. Virgin Media offers a low cost, 30-day rolling Essential broadband service to customers on Universal Credit for just £15 per month. While BT has lifted data usage limits on all home broadband plans.
Where the issue is at its worst is when parents only have access to or afford pay-as-you-go mobile plans with limited data, which charge exorbitant additional fees if a child has to use the connection for school Zoom and Teams calls, for example. If so, they should contact a dedicated DoE website at gov.uk to find out how to get alternative data connectivity. Schools too can be contacted directly as they can apply for 4G wireless routers or data SIMs, such as those provided by Vodafone just before Christmas.
Writing by Rik Henderson.