Free broadband during COVID-19 restrictions or universal income?
Free broadband sounds attractive and while we have seen BT drop its usage limits for the small number of customers on a service with a fixed usage allowance (we are not sure if this includes BT Basic tariff which is sold at cost). Some other fixed and mobile providers have made changes to call allowances and zero rated NHS sites on mobile accounts.
The rumour mill and it seems to be a bit more than just speculation as ISPA is indicating there has been talks with Government around ensuring people can afford broadband during these difficult times. What we don't know is whether this is just random thinking to see what is and is not feasible or actually something that is going to be pushed for.
On the face of it, free broadband will help those on low incomes who may be spending more on food to budget better and those that have lost their job as firms quickly react to the changing circumstances will also welcome it.
We would like to suggest that a better solution would be to increase benefits by a sum of £30 to £45/m to cover broadband and then individuals can make a choice whether to spend it on broadband or food.
Another option would be to pause things like TV License collection saving £12.87 a month and similar with council tax which is a much larger sum, and we mean pause as in the public is not paying but Government is making the equivalent payments.
With millions trying to stay at home and avoid social contact broadband is of course the obvious way for people to stay in touch and this means that the around 15 to 20% who have never signed up to broadband will possibly feel particularly isolated and cut off as the limited social contact they had previously is now zero. Getting this section of society online (if they want to be) is something to be considered but we have doubts about how this can be achieved in a short period of a few weeks, and it is not just broadband since if they are not online it is likely you will need to supply a tablet/phone/PC or other device.
On the subject of connecting those who are vulnerable and who have not used broadband before the question around digital skills is a big one, since while many devices seem incredibly simple to all of those reading this it is possible that attempting to video conference with familar may create more anxiety over frustrutation with working an unfamiliar device. A case in point, televisions have had multiple inputs for many years but my father who is in his 80's has never been able to learn that pressing the source/input on the remote to cycle inputs will get him back to freeview after mashing the wrong button previously.
The last thing we need to be doing at this time is having lots of people spend hours installing broadband and helping them learn how to use touch based devices in their own home.