Bridging the digital divide

11.3 million adults in the UK are digitally excluded37% of whom live in social housing. Everyone from landlords to councils and internet service providers has a role to play in making these numbers shrink.

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To be ‘cut off’ from the Internet in 2019 brings many disadvantages, such as missing out on the best energy tariffs, the cheapest shopping prices, and making it more difficult to find jobs and learn new skills.

Hyperoptic, the UK’s fastest broadband provider is playing its part by launching its first Digital Skills Academy for local people in Southwark. The initiative is enabling 50 volunteer champions to be given free training and support to help develop the digital skills of other residents in the borough – many of whom are social housing tenants.

This builds on an agreement forged with Southwark council last year to enable 100,000 homes and businesses in the borough to have access to gigabit full-fibre broadband, at no cost to the taxpayer. Since then, Hyperoptic has invested in connecting the whole of Southwark council’s housing portfolio, including 53,000 residential homes and nearly 1,000 commercial properties, with full fibre to the premises.

Increasingly, social landlords have a part to play, helping foster the power of partnerships – between broadband providers, local authorities, and housing associations.

There is a widely held myth that the largest barrier to installing lightning-fast new fibre is lack of finance. It isn’t: the biggest challenge is getting the necessary permissions to install fibre services.

This is why broadband providers are working closely with the social housing sector to provide a ‘win win’ situation for all. Typically, this means the broadband provider installs its services on a cost-neutral basis and undertakes maintenance at its own cost going forward. Residents are then offered a range of packages ranging from 30Mbps to 1Gbps.

An example of this working in practice is with Network Homes, an award-winning housing association with over 40 years’ experience of providing affordable housing. It has signed its full portfolio of 20,000 units to Hyperoptic which will supply new fibre connections direct to the homes. Customers will have a choice of a range of packages with speeds up to 1Gbps (1,000 megabits per second), which is over 18x faster than the UK average.

Being a ‘partner’, rather than a supplier, is crucial, and it is these unique partnerships which are enabling digital inclusion and bringing hyperfast broadband to a broad spectrum of demographics and property types.

Currently, just 8% of UK premises have access to the gold standard of fibre broadband services – it’s holding all of us back, not just social housing tenants. But with the investment available from broadband providers like Hyperoptic at no cost to social housing providers, everything is in place to see an end to digital exclusion.

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