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'Prohibitive' cost of broadband keeping those on low incomes offline

Friday, March 20th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The cost of broadband is a major barrier for many people when it comes to getting online, a new report has found.

The report, launched by Vodafone UK and the Tinder Foundation, found that 70% of participants said mobile was more flexible and had more cost advantages.

‘Mobile: helping to close the digital divide?’, follows a six-month study into the benefits of mobile data and devices for digitally-excluded people.

It was commissioned by Vodafone UK in July 2014 and carried out by the Tinder Foundation, a not-for-profit social enterprise which runs a network of digital training centres.

The foundation took the project to a 17 of its online centres to test how mobile connectivity could improve the lives of people lacking basic digital skills, and who met at least one criterion of social exclusion

More than 60 participants were loaned tablets, smartphones, or wi-fi hotspots by Vodafone to improve their online skills.

The project led to an increase in their online skills, as well as a significant impact on their health and wellbeing.

The report identifies the cost of broadband being a significant barrier for many people getting online, with 70% of participants agreeing that mobile has greater flexibility and cost advantages.

A Vodafone spokesperson said: “For many of the learners on low incomes the feedback from the research was that the additional cost to their weekly budgets of fixed broadband was prohibitive.

“Whilst fixed broadband is often advertised at a low rate, the commitment of the regular £15.99 per month required for line rental was perceived as being too great a commitment for those with a variable income.

Stretched incomes

“By way of contrast mobile offers an option where there is no need for the recurring line rental commitment; for example Vodafone Pay as You Go tariffs start at only £10 per month and need not be incurred in months where a learner’s income may be stretched.”

The report found that 88% of the people who took part in the project improved their digital skills. 78% of participants felt more encouraged to get online using a tablet or smartphone, finding them more intuitive and easier to use than a laptop or desktop.

Helen Milner, CEO of Tinder Foundation, added: “The findings of the report are just the beginning; we’re keen to explore these barriers further to ensure everyone – and anyone – can experience the benefits of being online."

In December, Ms Milner told Cable.co.uk that skills, motivation and affordability are bigger barriers to getting online than broadband infrastructure.

Cost is also a barrier to digital inclusion, Ms Milner told Cable.co.uk.

According to the Tinder Foundation, just under 20% of people in the UK are not currently online.

The cost of broadband contracts was addressed recently by digital minister Ed Vaizey, who told a Commons debate that he would look into whether there could be different levels of contracts for people who receive slower speeds.

Speaking at a parliamentary debate on the progress of the taxpayer-funded rural broadband rollout, Mr Vaizey said the issue of customers having to pay for speeds they can’t receive was a “contractual matter for BT and its customers”.

“But it is an important point that I shall take seriously. We have already tackled relatively straightforward issues, such as stopping companies from advertising their speeds as the fastest speed that could be possibly received. We have asked them to advertise only the average speed that people are likely to receive.

“However, I want to look at whether we can have different levels of contracts for people who clearly receive slower speeds.”

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