Belfast Telegraph

Call for social tariff to ensure broadband access for all

Councils have called on the Government to introduce a broadband social tariff to ensure those most in need have access to at least 10Mbps download speed at an affordable price.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said such a tariff in the Government's broadband universal service obligation (USO) would mean all households had the option to receive a subsidised service if they faced undue hardship in paying a market rate.

The LGA said a similar offer is already in place from BT, which provides a basic subsidised telephone and broadband package to qualifying customers, and it should be available from any supplier that delivers the USO.

It said broadband access is now "essential as a safety net" as Government services increasingly switch to digital, and has the potential to reduce social isolation and enable people to be cared for more easily outside of hospitals.

The LGA, which launched an Up To Speed campaign to improve broadband speeds earlier this year, is also calling for the Government to continue its commitment to the USO to give everybody the legal right to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10Mbps by 2020.

Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA's People and Places Board, said: "Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, access their bank accounts and even run their own businesses.

"As central and local government services become more digital, the USO will need to provide faster and more reliable speeds and, for our most vulnerable residents, a subsided connection at an affordable price.

"The quality of digital connectivity can be markedly different from area to area, with some households being able to access superfast broadband speeds whilst others can only achieve substantially less.

"Councils want to see a social tariff enabling all people to be able to access a subsidised broadband service."

Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: "We strongly support the LGA's call for a social tariff to be included in the Government's broadband universal service obligation.

"The older generation is increasingly using the internet for vital tasks such as shopping, banking, healthcare and keeping in touch with family and friends, and should be entitled to receive a decent service, whatever their income.

"Yet with one in seven pensioners (14%) living in poverty, the cost of getting online is already prohibitive for many, leaving some older people feeling priced out of the digital world.

"We want to increase the numbers of older people benefiting from digital technology, and greater investment in building digital skills is clearly needed. However those who are not online should not miss out on, or find it harder to access, essential goods and services."

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: "Ofcom are preparing advice and recommendations for Government on the design of the USO, and we've asked them specifically to consider a social tariff to make sure it is affordable for all."