In the past, a home connection to the internet was something that was optional for most of us. Times have changed. Rapidly.
Smartphone data allowances are framed as the amount of music or movie streaming you can expect, or the number of emails you can send. They’re mostly optional uses. But internet access is now essential for many public and private services, and we need to start treating it as such.
Here’s an example
TechResort is a proud partner in the Good Things Foundation’s National Databank. They’ve encouraged mobile networks (Virgin Media, O2, Vodafone and Three) to donate SIM cards to organisations such as ours, so we can share them with people who’re digitally excluded.
This week, the Eastbourne Foodbank asked us whether they could refer one of their clients, Graham (not his real name), as his mobile phone had been stolen.
Graham popped in to see us. He told us how, for him, a phone is an essential way to keep in touch with his support worker. He also said he wouldn’t be able to afford to top it up until next month as he’s on a very low income.
We gave him a SIM card and a donated mobile phone, along with some advice about staying safe online, because it’s an old model that doesn’t get all the security updates we’d usually recommend.
For Graham, and other members of our community in similar circumstances, mobile data is not about streaming movies – it’s about making sure he can keep his Universal Credit details up to date and accurate to demonstrate that he’s looking for work.
Universal Credit admin can only be done online and it’s not always easy to get to a public library and use those computers. It’s also about getting the support he needs – much of this is increasingly online or via video conferencing.
As he left, Graham told us how this simple act – a donated phone handset (thank you Zoonou) and a free SIM card from O2 – had made his day. The relief was clear.
As a way to offer help quickly, the National Databank is invaluable. But as we move increasingly online, we need universal and permanent solutions. Treating the internet as an essential service is a good place to start.