Should Broadband Tax be cut?
A Lord's committee certainly thinks so
Peers have urged for VAT-free special internet offers targeting individuals on benefits, aiming to increase online participation. A report from a committee in the House of Lords highlighted the disadvantage faced by those without internet access, particularly when searching for employment. The report criticized the government for lacking a credible strategy to address digital exclusion. However, the government asserted its commitment to ensuring inclusivity in the digital era and mentioned the introduction of social broadband and mobile tariffs, starting from £10 per month and available across 99% of the UK. Social tariffs provide discounted deals for individuals receiving benefits. Despite these efforts, around 1.7 million households lack broadband or mobile internet, and approximately one million people have reduced or terminated their internet subscriptions in the past year, according to the House of Lords communications and digital committee. With the increasing shift of services, including benefits and banking, to online platforms, 90% of job advertisements are now exclusively online. Individuals facing financial constraints and unable to afford data have difficulties having to navigate limited options such as juggling work schedules with library opening hours in order to access necessary forms or print documents.
In light of the cost-of-living crisis, the report coincided with a meeting between the Chancellor and regulators, including Ofcom. Following the meeting, Dame Melanie Dawes, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, expressed the intention to urge telecoms companies to promptly enhance public awareness of social tariffs. Till Sommer, representing the Internet Service Providers Association, agreed with the committee's view that a new digital inclusion strategy was long overdue. He emphasized the broadband sector's genuine dedication to assisting individuals in accessing online services through social tariffs and support mechanisms for those facing difficulties. However, he also acknowledged that there are certain areas where only the government has the authority to bring about significant change, such as reconsidering the VAT applied to broadband services.
If you need help accessing the internet, these are some ways to go about it.
Social Tariffs and Discounted Plans: Many internet service providers in the UK offer social tariffs or discounted broadband plans specifically designed for low-income households or individuals facing financial difficulties. These plans provide reduced rates for internet services, making them more accessible and affordable.
Government Assistance Programs: The UK government has implemented various initiatives to tackle the digital divide and ensure internet access for those who cannot afford it. For example, the Universal Service Obligation (USO) guarantees that every household in the UK can request a minimum broadband connection speed of 10 Mbps. Additionally, the government has launched programs like Better Broadband Scheme and Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which provide financial assistance or vouchers to eligible individuals or businesses to help cover the cost of broadband installation or upgrades.
Nonprofit and Community Efforts: Nonprofit organizations and community groups in the UK work to bridge the digital divide by providing free or low-cost internet access in underserved areas. They establish community centers, public Wi-Fi hotspots, or partner with libraries and other public institutions to offer internet connectivity to individuals in need.
Educational Initiatives: Educational institutions in the UK often play a role in addressing broadband accessibility for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. They may distribute internet-enabled devices to students or provide subsidized or free internet access for educational purposes.
Government-Funded Infrastructure Projects: The UK government has invested in expanding broadband infrastructure across the country, including rural and remote areas, through projects like the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). These infrastructure investments aim to improve broadband connectivity for all residents, including those who cannot afford traditional broadband services.
If you cannot afford to have broadband in this cost-of-living crisis, try seeking out these options to get online in this increasingly digital world.