Full fibre, 5G, augmented reality, artificial intelligence – as more and more advancements join the fray, it’s no secret that technology is advancing at a rapid rate.
As the tech market continues to grow, it brings with it an array of social and economic benefits including increased production, optimised digital communication, and more job opportunities. However, with a constant focus on what is coming next, what is often overlooked are the people left behind as technology continues to expand and grow.
Digital exclusion is defined as the “unequal access to digital technology…creating inequality around access to information and resources” (Iriss, 2022). According to the NHS, there are particular demographics in the UK who are more likely to face barriers to accessing technology, including;
People in lower income brackets
People who are unemployed
People in social housing
People with disabilities
People living in rural areas
People who don’t speak English as a first language.
At Freedom Fibre, our mission is and has always been “connectivity for everyone.” While this is typically viewed as the build of our full-fibre network to rural as well as urban areas, we take a more comprehensive approach to our mission and as such want to ensure that everyone has access to gigabit capable broadband, no matter their location, education level, income, or ethnic background.
Our work towards digital inclusion begins at the very first stages of our build plan, where our network managers and build surveyors conduct critical testing and analysis to ensure our full-fibre network reaches as many households and businesses as possible. In addition to our network roll out, Freedom Fibre are actively working on several strategies that enable us to fight digital exclusion.
In addition to our partnership with the UK’s third largest Internet service provider, TalkTalk, Freedom Fibre are engaging with ISPs to facilitate a social tariff offering alongside our wholesale pricing structure, providing financial support to customers who are in the lower income bracket and allowing us to offer full-fibre connectivity to everyone.
Additionally, Freedom Fibre are building the full-fibre network to the Higher Folds Community Centre in Leigh completely free of charge, ensuring that locals who rely on the community centre for activities and other uses have access to lightning-fast broadband – even if the build to their household is still in progress.
These efforts are particularly important on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the UK fends off an economic recession. As households focus their wages on battling the rising cost of living, Freedom Fibre recognise that full-fibre broadband may not be the priority for many who are needing to spend their income on essentials such as rent and groceries. With this in mind, we aim to continue to support Freedom Fibre and TalkTalk customers through our network build to ensure the service is as accessible as possible.
Onboarding a range of ISPs
Currently, Freedom Fibre has a partnership with TalkTalk, who are renowned throughout the UK For their affordable prices. However, as Freedom Fibre continues to grow across the North West and beyond, additional internet service providers will eventually be onboarded and able to connect their customers to Freedom Fibre’s lightning-fast, full-fibre network.
This expansion to include additional ISPs will introduce healthy competition and ensure customers of gigabit capable broadband receive ongoing competitive deals. On onboarding more ISPs, Freedom Fibre CFO, Darren Woods, said;
“Whether we work with TalkTalk or with other ISPs, it’s their customers that are feeling the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis. We are looking creatively at ways within Freedom Fibre that we can support these customers and get our full-fibre network to them at the right time.”
In addition to confusion created by the use of fibre terminology for non-full-fibre products, there is a general lack of awareness amongst the population regarding full-fibre technology and the ongoing transition away from copper products. Ensuring all our customers are well educated on the subject – including people in current and future build areas – will allow consumers to make better informed decisions regarding their broadband products, ultimately improving digital literacy and access to information.
While these are all ongoing efforts Freedom Fibre are making to ensure we are making fibre to the premises (FTTP) as accessible and inclusive as possible, there are other social projects in the works that will allow us as a company to reach out and provide valuable support to vulnerable groups and individuals, or those at risk of facing digital exclusion. These efforts directly support the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s largest digital inclusion pilot that was recently launched in late 2022. This project aims to provide sustainable solutions to getting social housing residents across Greater Manchester connected to full-fibre broadband, ultimately providing numerous social and economic benefits to the city and its residents. By ensuring FTTP remains inclusive to all, we can help position the UK as a global leader in broadband technology.