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Community Connectivity: Connect Who?

As part of our collaboration with Promising Trouble we're exploring community connectvity and how free or extremely low cost internet access can improve people's daily lives. Learn more about the project here.

Take a minute to think about how and where you’re reading this. You might be using your mobile data, the train station's free wifi, hotspotting or using your homebroad. The ease of access, the speed of the connection, concerns about privacy and data sharing will no doubt impact your experience. Then there’s the most important consideration: the cost. 

Last year Promising Trouble published The Real Cost of Broadband looking in detail at how affordable broadband really is, especially for lower income families and households. As the cost of living crisis continues and basic essentials are becoming luxuries we wanted to demonstrate there is an alternative. With support from Impact on Urban Health we will collaborate with a community in south London to run a pilot that will demonstrate free, or near to free, broadband is possible.

Partnering with Community TechAid we will be working with residents in south London to better understand the barriers faced by residents in getting online, and in turn, develop a connectivity pilot that works for the community.

Community TechAid is a south London charity that supports people online, primarily through access to technology. Starting as a group of residents in Streatham, they have supported over 3000 people throughout south London. They operate a circular economy where technology is repurposed, repaired and reused and then passed onto residents experiencing digital exclusion*.

“We see firsthand the negative impact of digital exclusion, and our work is focused on helping people overcome these barriers. We’re excited to help give a voice to our community, and to aid in the development of a community centred connectivity solution.”Cat Smith, Community TechAid

Too often solutions to social problems are developed without working with the very communities they aim to support. This can result in solutions that don’t work, or that put additional burdens on individuals. Together, we want to understand what ‘good’ connectivity looks like for households in south London. Data and contracts are confusing, and finding additional time to deal with issues is often overwhelming, especially if you have to wait on hold for 45 minutes.

Last year, many large data providers launched a ‘social tariff’, a connectivity option aimed at providing those on low incomes access to ‘affordable’ broadband. However, what is affordable? With many of these tariffs over £15 per month and with slower connections than their full-priced counterparts they aren’t really that affordable. Coupled with a need to be on a qualifying benefit (for example Universal Credit) this option really isn’t a solution at all. 

So what does a community connectivity solution look like?

The first part of this project is about learning about what problems residents might face in getting online, and how we can ensure these are addressed in the development of a solution. Over the next few months we will be working with community partners, local residents and organisations to explore the barriers people face.

We know that without a secure and reliable home internet connection, people become digitally excluded, worsening health inequalities through the differences in care that they receive and the opportunities they have to lead healthy lives. This project will not only support residents online but show that a community solution is possible. 

*What do we mean by digital exclusion? You're experiencing digital exclusion if you don’t have the ability to access the online world when, where and how you want to. 


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