UK Telecoms Industry commits to keeping people connected

Keeping the UK Connected

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All major network providers in the UK have agreed to implement a set of common measures designed to support and protect customers’ access to the internet for the duration of the COViD-19 pandemic. 

The UK’s major internet service and mobile providers, namely BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM have all agreed the following commitments, effective immediately:

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

These commitments are in addition to a range of supportive measures offered by the individual providers to their customers affected by circumstances arising from Covid-19.

According to the deal, telecommunication companies will have to provide “alternative methods of communication” should the outbreak continue to prevent repairs to landlines. Likewise, new measures to ensure that customers are treated “fairly” if they’re having trouble paying their monthly bills during the public health crisis, which is purported to have results in 80,000 job losses in the UK already.

Even before the latest measures, which were agreed by the Government Digital Secretary and Ofcom and a number of other major telecommunications providers, a number of firms had already started to introduce their own provisions to ensure vulnerable consumers would be able to access the most crucial information about the novel coronavirus pandemic.

EE, O2, Three and other mobile providers already enabled customers to visit NHS resources and Government guidelines on social distancing and the restrictions currently in place in the UK without using any of their mobile data allowance. So, even if a customer had used all of their data allowance for the month, they would still be able to access their all-important resources.

Vodafone went even further and allowed data-free access to a number of charities, including Mind, Calm and other mental health resources. Not only that, but Vodafone has also committed to hand out unlimited mobile data for half a million customers on its Pay Monthly plans to help people keep in touch via video call apps like FaceTime, WhatsApp and HouseParty.

Customers not already paying for an unlimited data plan will be able to access the offer through the VeryMe rewards scheme available in their My Vodafone App on iOS and Android right now. And that’s not all, Vodafone has already started to proactively upgrade Pay Monthly customers who are flagged as “vulnerable” in its systems.

Those who are able to work from home are now more reliant on the home broadband infrastructure to continue to be productive, attend meetings, and more. Checking in on relatives and organising social events with friends has also now moved online – adding to the strain.

In order to ease some of the pressure, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ have all pledged to drop the quality of streaming video to try to keep everyone connected during the lockdown measures. Sony has also limited download speeds for game downloads and patches on its PS3 and PS4.

Speaking about the latest measures agreed by the Government and ISPs, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time. It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home.”

Virtually all operators in the UK have reported jumps in traffic this month, with Virgin seeing an increase of up to 95% in upstream traffic during daytime hours. Broadband providers, however, have repeatedly played down concerns that their network infrastructure would be unable to cope with the surge in demand. ISPA-UK, the organization that represents internet service providers, said that networks were already built for peak usage in the evenings. 

A more pressing issue, therefore, is to protect customers that are most at risk of seeing their internet allowance running out, especially as connectivity becomes a daily necessity – whether to access key NHS services, to be able to keep working from home, or to stay in touch with relatives.

Melanie Dawes, CEO of Ofcom said:

We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment. So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important. We’ll continue to work with Government and industry to help make sure people stay connected.

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