Financial help on offer as the virus tightens its grip

via Flickr © wwarby (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © wwarby (CC BY 2.0)

  • Telcos are ramping up the PR campaign to prove how keen they are to help their customers through the virus crisis
  • Free data, new tariff plans for home workers and flows of useful information are on show
  • But there has to be more where that came from

Telcos are now stepping up with offers designed to help their customers through the coronavirus emergency. It’s one thing, of course, to keep the networks up and running under increased load as the industry is currently congratulating itself on doing, but quite another to ensure that the services are financially accessible for the people who need them most. 

The reasons why squeezing the digital divide shut is a must are going to become obvious as large swathes of the population in so-called ‘advanced’ countries are unable to the afford the gadgets or the access to broadband and mobile broadband  required to get them to the head of the queue when it comes to ordering groceries online (for instance). There are many other instances where, in 2020, having broadband in your hand means you will be able to weather the storm, being unconnected may mean the opposite. 

So in the coronavirus aftermath it’s going to be interesting to see whether fixing the digital divide “for next time” will be near the top of the national ‘things to do’ list. 

Telcos, especially mobile ones, are obviously aware of this and are taking PR steps to diminish the risk that regulators will regulate to ensure that pricing is fair and spare capacity is on standby. 

In the modern world surplus network and cloud capacity may well be viewed as equivalent to the retained capital requirement that banks were obliged to conform to in the wake of the last recession in 2008. 

Helping customers 

All networks are now publicising tariff breaks and the like to get close to their customers and show willing to regulators.

In the UK Vodafone today announced measures designed to provide help in the crisis. It says its mobile customers now have access to NHS UK online websites for free without it affecting their data allowances; and it’s initated an Emergency Homeworker Tariff – a 3-month flexible plan to help customers get their workforce working from home easily and costing only £15/month.

Small business suppliers will be paid within 15 days (rather than the customary 30 or 60 days) and hints and tips for remote working have been shared through various communication channels, it claims.

Meanwhile its arch rival, EE, is also applying no charges to access the NHS online. Calling the emergency coronavirus line (111) will also remain free, but apart from that, EE is so far just promising to keep up its usual flow of information and help no matter how difficult things get. Probably more announcements are on the way. 

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but what is noticeable is a certain lack of innovation in what is being offered. To return to the grocery problem - can’t a way be found to link together supermarkets, freelance delivery operators (or uber drivers) and vulnerable mobile subscribers in a way that makes sense? I know it’s early days, but so far there’s not a lot of innovation on display. Things might be better on the IT/apps side. 

Home help for the homeless

‘My Social Housing’ is a new UK mobile app that, in its own words “aims to mitigate homelessness, assist those searching for social housing, and reduce the number of homes that are unnecessarily sitting empty.”

It was founded by its parent company, Bridge Housing Solutions, and works from a system  set up to crawl more than 1500 websites to identify affordable, safe, and well-maintained accommodation that could be used to rehouse those who need it and assist local authorities in moving people into homes from temporary accommodation.

My Social Housing points out that the current allocation system for UK social housing is highly inefficient and it claims that it’s difficult to find any suitable housing options as seekers are bombarded with many different advertisements using various online portals.

There is no efficient way to match potential properties to those in housing need, it claims, and partly as a result, there are currently 54,000 families living in temporary accommodation in London alone and at the same time 12,000 social homes sitting empty. It’s a fair bet that the dislocation and housing chaos likely to result from the current coronavirus spread will make the UK housing situation even worse.

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