The Good Things Foundation: The importance of digital inclusion

Alex Waddington, head of external affairs at the Good Things Foundation discusses data poverty and how charities are working to erase it.

Having sufficient data in our increasingly digital society is not a thing nice to have – it’s an absolute essential. If you’re not online you can’t save money on products and services, help your children to participate in home-learning and apply for jobs.

At Good Things Foundation our vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital through having a suitable device, internet access and the skills to thrive. Our digital inclusion partnership with Virgin Media O2 is a landmark moment; we have launched the first ever National Databank, which can be thought of as a ‘food bank for data’.

It’s estimated that seven million people across the UK are unable to access mobile data or broadband at home* and this partnership is a first of its kind. It’s a direct response to the need for mobile networks to find a long-term solution to the data poverty crisis at a national level – by creating a collaborative, community-led platform that provides free mobile data to those who really need it.

As the founding member of the Databank, Virgin Media O2 will donate £12.5m worth of O2 connectivity (7.5 million GB of data). This will provide a massive 319 million hours of internet usage to over 200,000 people by the end of 2023.

The National Databank, which is open to all mobile operators, will provide free data for community groups to distribute across the UK, including the most digitally deprived areas. In its creation, Virgin Media O2 and Good Things has worked closely with other digital inclusion experts such as Community Organisers, Operation Wifi, Hubbub and Nominet.

Through our brilliant network of 5,000 community groups, the National Databank will make a real difference, by providing a central hub where community groups can access free ‘data voucher codes’ and SIM cards for people in disadvantaged communities. The people accessing free data will also be offered additional support – including digital skills training and signposting to other essential services.

Ahead of a nationwide rollout in November, it’s been exciting to see an initial three-month pilot get underway with 10 community organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The pilot will help test and improve the online platform, ensuring vital data gets to those who need it as smoothly and as rapidly as possible.

The telecoms industry has done remarkable things in recent months to keep customers connected when they needed it most, but it can’t stop here.

Now is the time for us to come together to address the issue of data poverty in the UK once and for all. As households struggle to afford the basic data they need for life in an increasingly digital society, we’re calling on other mobile networks to come and join the National Databank, helping scale the reach and impact of the platform as a long-term, sustainable solution to tackle data poverty.

Working together, the industry has the power to provide connectivity to millions of digitally excluded people and families across the UK. It’s through these big, ambitious digital inclusion partnerships and wide-scale tech collaborations – backed up by strong leadership from the Government on this issue – that we will end data poverty for good.

* Estimated figures based on the latest adult population figures from the Office for National Statistics (2019) and recent research into the UK’s data divide by the Ada Lovelace Institute (March 2021).

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