Ministers already have the legal powers to ensure low-cost broadband is available to lower income families, so why won’t they use those powers?
We all know how important internet access is, especially for families with children who currently need to learn online instead of in the classroom.
So, on Wednesday, I will introduce a Bill asking the Government to use those powers to act now and provide low-cost broadband for those families that need it.
Temporary measures to help during the lockdown are important and welcome.
Labour colleagues such as Siobhain McDonagh, Shadow Schools Minister Wes Streeting and Shadow Digital Minister Chi Onwurah have rightly been leading the charge for internet companies to ‘zero rate’ education websites (so that you’re not charged to access, for example, BBC Bitesize) and calling on mobile companies to give free data bundles to families in need.
But digital poverty won’t end when schools re-open for all children.
Another Labour colleague, Julie Elliot, who leads a cross-party group on digital skills, has repeatedly called for a long-term solution that gets to the root causes of digital poverty in our country.
My Bill – which doesn’t require new law and doesn’t cost the taxpayer – provides that long term solution.
It calls on ministers to use powers in a law that already exists to instruct the broadband regulator, Ofcom, to mandate internet companies to provide a low-cost broadband product to those families that need it.
Ofcom would decide what “affordable” means – I’d expect that to be between £10 and £15 per month – and I’m asking that every household in the country with children on free school meals be eligible.
There are no excuses for ministers.
They have the powers. It doesn’t cost any money. They must act now.