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UK mobile providers under pressure to offer free data during Lockdown 3

Following the UK decision to close schools once more there have been calls for UK telcos to stop charging for data to ensure poor kids have access to remote learning.

Since children appear to be barely affected by the coronavirus, which is having its inevitable winter spike, it’s hard to see what good closing schools will do. But, despite even the WHO warning against the use of lockdowns as the means od controlling the rona, we’ve decided to give it a go for the third time, presumably on the grounds that it worked so well previously.

Even if suspending normal life yet again does have some positive affect on the spread of the disease, it will have many catastrophic side-effects for much of the country. On top of widespread impoverishment, the destruction of SMEs, mental health decline and fatalities from other untreated illnesses, poorer families are the worst affected by lockdowns for a number of reasons.

One concern is that the children of such families will lack the technological resources to participate in home schooling, which requires a laptop and an internet connection. While it’s hard to imagine there are many households that lack these, especially broadband, there must be some and inevitably they are the focus for the Labour Party’s attempts to extract political capital from the crisis.

Labour leader Kier Starmer, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning (at the 1:50 mark), seems to have decided the cost of mobile data is a core issue that needs addressing and has called mobile providers to stop charging for it. A few members of the charitable sector have made similar comments, so it seems to be fashionable to pressure telcos into doing their bit.

Three UK wasted little time in rushing out a press release announcing it “will provide unlimited data upgrades to disadvantaged school children in England to ensure that they are able to continue with their studies.” The announcement goes on to note that this will be done in conjunction with the government’s Get Help With Technology programme – implying Three will receive at least some taxpayer rebate for its philanthropy.

This all feels like especially feeble and redundant political posturing on the part of the opposition. Not only is there already a comprehensive programme in place to address Starmer’s concerns, but mobile data is not a core component of distance learning. The very fact that people are being locked down actually makes mobile data far less important, since everyone will be using their domestic wifi nearly all of the time. Weak effort Sir Kier.

 

UPDATE – 17:00, 6 Jan 21: Three got in touch to clarify that it doesn’t receive any rebate for its involvement in the get help with technology scheme and that the government merely acts as a facilitator for identifying those in need of help.


4 comments

  1. Avatar M Kennett 05/01/2021 @ 3:18 pm

    Not everyone has domestic wifi. Oak National Academy says that according to Ofcom’s 2020 Technology Tracker up to 913,000 children can only access the internet using mobile data.

  2. Avatar S Clarke 05/01/2021 @ 4:39 pm

    Having a laptop/tablet per child will be a challenge in many households. The National Foundation for Education Research identified that 28% have limited access to IT in the home (pupils with poor broadband access, pupils with little or no IT equipment in the home, and pupils who had to share equipment with other family members). It’s good to see Three & Vodafone providing SIMs with extensive free data to children but it’s going to be a struggle without access to more laptops, tablets & computers for them to use.

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