Openreach to waive broadband connection fees for poor households

Openreach has said it will waive the connection fees for low-income households receiving Universal Credit who want to get a superfast broadband connection.

A recent report from telecoms regulator Ofcom found that UK households which don’t adopt an internet connection due to affordability “are likely to experience the greatest harm” and explained that a decent broadband connection can provide “better access to education and employment opportunities, as well as wider benefits such as social inclusion”.

The issue has been particularly relevant during the pandemic due to a greater reliance on internet-based technologies for many activities. Furthermore, the Ada Lovelace Institute recently warned of a "data divide" of inequalities in access, knowledge and awareness of digital health technologies used in the pandemic, such as symptom-tracking apps, contact-tracing apps and consumer-facing mental and physical health apps.

Openreach’s decision to waive the connection fees has been designed to help those most at risk: an estimated one million people across the country.

The move will enable internet service providers (ISPs) who connect new eligible customers to save up to £92 on installation charges for Openreach’s broadband services, which offer potential download speeds of 40 megabits per second and, on a trial basis, selected higher speed tiers.

Openreach said ISPs can choose to pass the savings on to customers in a number of ways, such as making it cheaper for low-income households to get online up-front or over the course of their contract term.

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said: “We have been working closely with Openreach and the wider sector to build a broadband market where cost is not a constraint to getting online. This welcome step will help people struggling with bills access the connectivity they need to thrive in today’s digital age.”

Katie Milligan, managing director for customer, commercial and propositions at Openreach, said: “We believe everyone in the UK deserves access to decent, reliable and affordable broadband and we’re working in every community, every day, to help make that a reality, including investing £15bn to build a new ultrafast, ultra-reliable, full-fibre broadband network to 25 million premises by December 2026.”

The UK government has already launched its ‘Project Gigabit’ fund, which aims to meet pledges originally announced in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to install full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband in every home and business across the UK by 2025.

This pledge was later downgraded to just 85 per cent of premises in the UK, although MPs have questioned whether even this target is plausible considering the current speed of the rollout.

A Which? survey from March found that some of the UK’s biggest broadband providers performed poorly during the pandemic on reliability, speed and value for money.

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