UK broadband and mobile providers have agreed new commitments to keep people connected throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The Government claims that the new measures, which should come into effect immediately, are intended to help people stay at home to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus - hopefully saving thousands of British lives.
The deal involves BT, EE, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and the network operator (Openreach) and will ensure that "generous" new packages are on offer in an attempt to help people stay connected, including extra data allowances to existing mobile contracts, free phone calls, or adding data at a lower price.
Under the deal, telecommunication companies will have to provide "alternative methods of communication" should the outbreak prevent repairs to landlines. Likewise, new measures to ensure that customers are treated "fairly" if they're having trouble paying their monthly bills during the public health crisis, which has caused at least 80,000 job losses in the UK already.
In a statement shared on the Government website, it lists the commitments agreed by all UK telecom providers:
• They commit to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
• They will remove all data allowance caps on current fixed broadband services (which in our opinion shouldn’t exist in the first place. Limited broadband is a rip-off and we don’t allow it on our site).
• All providers agree to offer new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected - and their most vulnerable customers continue to be helped. Some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
• Vulnerable customers or those self-isolating will receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.
Even before the latest measures, which were agreed by the Government, Ofcom and a number of telecommunications companies, a number of firms already started to introduce their own provisions to ensure vulnerable consumers could access crucial information about the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has already infected some 900,000 people worldwide and resulted in around 35,000 deaths.
EE, O2, Three and other mobile providers already allow customers to visit NHS resources without using any of their mobile data allowance. So, even if a customer had used all of their 3G, 4G or 5G allowance, they would still be able to access important online resources.
Vodafone went further to allow free access to a number of charities, including Mind, Calm and other mental health support services. Vodafone also committed to provide unlimited mobile data for half a million customers on its Pay-Monthly deals to help people keep in touch via video call apps like FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Snapchat and HouseParty. Those who don’t already have an unlimited data plan will be able to access the offer through the VeryMe rewards scheme available in the ‘My Vodafone’ App on iOS and Android. Vodafone is also proactively upgrading Pay Monthly customers who are flagged as "vulnerable" in its systems.
Those who can work from home are now more reliant on broadband infrastructure to continue to be productive, attend meetings, and complete a range of tasks. Checking in on relatives and organising social events with friends has also now moved online – which is adding to the strain on our national telecommunications infrastructure.
In order to ease some of this burden, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ have all pledged to reduce the quality of streaming video to try to keep everyone connected coronavirus lockdown. Sony also reduced download speeds for game downloads and patches on its Playstation Network. Digital Secretary (Oliver Dowden) said: "It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time. It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home."
Pete has worked in the telecoms industry for 16 years - and launched this comparison service to provide a better deal to customers nationwide.