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Tory MP Wants UK Social Housing Tenants to Have FREE Broadband

Monday, Nov 5th, 2012 (1:27 pm) - Score 999

The Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen (South East Lancashire), Jake Berry, has called for all social housing tenants (e.g. people in poverty or those with low incomes) to be given either a low cost or even free broadband internet access service.

Writing in The Guardian Berry, whom is also the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Grant Shapps, Minister for Housing and Local Government, said that his idea had actually been well received by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith. But he was later scalded by readers of a local newspaper, many of whom were less than pleased with the idea of social housing tenants getting something else for free.

Curiously Berry’s explanation of how this solution could work confusingly suggests that the costs for such a service would be “recovered by landlords and tenants“. To confuse matters further he also points to the wide availability of both cheap phone line rental (e.g. BT Basic) and broadband deals (e.g. Primus Saver offer broadband from just £1.20 a month), which could perhaps equally be used as an argument against the need for subsidising a free service.

Jake Berry explained:

If we are serious about helping those in social housing, we should offer free broadband. Social landlords should use their purchasing power to procure broadband in bulk; if I can get it for £3.50, they should be able to achieve even greater savings. They must also retrofit this service to existing homes and include the costs in the rent, and the government must enable the cost of this service to be recovered by landlords and tenants.

Tackling the digital divide could provide savings for social tenants, but the benefit for government and taxpayer could be greater. It is estimated that moving vehicle tax disc renewals online saves £90m a year and NHS Direct saved £50m in 2008 by providing basic health information online. In April 2013, the new digital-by-default universal credit will be introduced and the government wants 80% of applications for this be online by 2017.

If the government is serious about ending digital exclusion in social housing, opening up new routes to literacy and numeracy and championing aspiration, it must enable social landlords to go digital by default too.”

Meanwhile ISPs are unlikely to be pleased with the idea of going into competition with local authority provided services, although some social housing authorities and local councils have already attempted a similar solution via the roll-out of free public wifi services.

More over Berry’s idea might not actually be all that far off what the government has planned. Back in December 2011 Grant Shapps pledged to end the “digital apartheid” that had left more than half of council tenants (social housing) in a situation where they are unable to use the internet and or have never gone online at all.

At the time Shapps suggested that he wanted to see new affordable homes being built ‘broadband-ready‘ and for internet access to be a part of the “standard rent package“.

Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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