MPs, industry figures and campaigners are set to meet today (16 November) in a bid to help end the data poverty affecting hundreds of thousands of students and teachers.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Data Poverty was established in February this year to learn more about the issues around – and possible solutions to – people being unable to afford adequate access to the internet.
In June, Citizens Advice reported that a total of 2.5 million people were behind on their broadband bills.
One of the groups feeding into today’s meeting will be Jisc, a founding member of the APPG. A recent survey of students by the edtech non-profit found that 63% of students in higher education, as well as 49% of their peers in further education, were hampered by poor wifi. Mobile data costs were also a significant issue, with 24% and 16% respectively experiencing problems.
Jisc has long been encouraging local authorities to provide free internet access to students and staff in thousands of public spaces across the country, including libraries, community centres and public halls, via its Eduroam connectivity service.
“As the UK’s digital body for tertiary education and research sectors, Jisc has spent the last 18 months campaigning to raise awareness of the impact of data poverty,” said Heidi Fraser-Krauss, chief executive officer of Jisc. “We look forward to working with all involved to collectively tackle the critical issue of data poverty affecting students, teachers, and society at large.
“When universities and colleges had to close their sites during coronavirus lockdowns, many students couldn’t access reliable connectivity at home, and so couldn’t access education. Learners struggled to cover the costs of the mobile phone data they needed to complete their coursework remotely, faced unreliable wifi, or had to compromise over bandwidth with family members or housemates.”
Other data poverty-related issues on which the APPG has sought action include Amazon’s reported destroying of unsold laptops and tablets, and the establishing of a social tariff for broadband for families who need it.
Today’s meeting takes place as part of the wider Digital Inequalities Summit, organised this week by several APPGs and supported by the Digital Poverty Alliance.