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Leeds City Council Moot FREE Home Broadband for Disadvantaged Adults

Monday, February 20th, 2017 (10:39 am) - Score 758

The Leeds City Council in Yorkshire (England) has proposed a new scheme that could generate £45m for the local economy over the next 10 years and help “thousands” of “digitally excluded” adults by giving them access to free home broadband connections, wifi and Tablet computers.

Last week’s meeting of the council’s Scrutiny Board (City Development) included an update on their inquiry into Digital Inclusion that has been running since June 2015, which revealed that there are about 90,000 adults in Leeds who are “offline and/or lack basic digital skills.”

The inquiry points to a report commissioned by the Tinder Foundation last year, which outlined the economic benefits of investing in a 100% digitally included UK population. With digital inclusion leading to higher earnings, more people in employment, time and cost savings, savings to the NHS and social care, the total economic benefits would amount to over £14 billion set against an investment of £1.6 billion.

Naturally the council has seen this and proposed a series of recommendations that could help to solve the perceived problem, several of which include improvements to local Internet connectivity and digital infrastructure.

Highlights from the Recommendations

* Recommendation 2 – That the Director of City Development in consultation with the Chief Digital Officer utilise the intelligence gathered to facilitate better infrastructure planning and enable smaller commercial providers to identify and deliver services to provide greater choice and opportunities for internet access in areas where choice is limited.

In an urban area like Leeds over 90% of premises have access to superfast broadband, most of which has been provided by commercial investment. The council continues to support the WY & York Broadband programme which aims to provide access to superfast broadband to 98% of premises in the designated assistance areas by 2019. To reach “the final 2%” the programme team are currently bidding for a phase 3 programme utilising Local Growth Funding and European funds.

A phase 3 programme will involve a new procurement which will provide opportunities to a range of broadband infrastructure providers to get involved in the delivery of superfast broadband too hard to reach communities. In addition, there is a developing idea around connectivity for Social Housing which provides a low cost broadband service to tenants.

Leeds City Council wishes to invite suppliers to provide digital connectivity to its social housing tenants on a trial basis. The digital connectivity shall be provided free of charge to the end user (i.e. the Social Housing tenants) and free of charge to Leeds City Council.

It is envisaged that as part of this trial, the residents within the tower blocks which house the rooftop equipment shall be offered free connectivity, as well as a range of housing types around the perimeter of the block. Leeds City Council would like around 800 residential dwellings to be provided for, for a period of at least 18 months. These dwellings should be a mix of houses, low rise blocks and high rise blocks, and should aim to cover a wide demographic, reflective of Leeds’ current social housing tenant mix.

Leeds City Council will work closely with the provider to identify which sites are most appropriate to target as part of this trial. We expect this offer to be supplemented by our proposed tablet lending scheme.

* Recommendation 3 – That the Director of City Development and the Chief Digital Officer work collaboratively to:

A) Oversee the provision of information to aql in order to identify the areas that would maximise investment for free wifi in Leeds.

B) Update the Scrutiny Board on progress of the concession agreement with aql and the roll out of free wifi in areas of high need in Leeds.

Leeds City Council currently has two concessions contracts that provide for free public Wi-Fi. One contract with Virgin Medial Business Ltd covers the City Centre and another with AQL (Wireless) Ltd covers the reminder of the city. Both contracts are non-exclusive.

The two concession contracts have failed to gain inertia in the roll out and are unlikely to be expanded further. A number of alternative providers have expressed an interested in operating similar concession contracts and it is our intention to re-tender the requirements this financial year.

Many of the other recommendations tend to focus on improving digital skills and awareness of related support options. As for the idea of free tablet computers, this is actually more of a “lending” scheme and a full pilot with up to 100 tablets is only just getting started.

Under this approach the library service would take responsibility for administering the tablets and “detailed discussions” are currently taking place with O2 UK concerning which tablets to use, device management (security, content filtering etc.) and Mobile Broadband connectivity (4G etc.). In theory this scheme could eventually be expanded to include thousands of Tablets, but the model is still a work-in-progress.

The effort to get more people online and improve digital skills is certainly praiseworthy, although it’s worth remembering that not everybody wants to go online and a fair number of elderly people in particular tend to shun the digital world.

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. CarlT says:

    Good to see this, an investment that will potentially both save the city money and improve these peoples’ lives.

    Also, tapping every funding stream possible to try and deliver to the last 2% is an excellent idea. Maximum bang for each Council tax payers’ buck.

    1. JustAnotherFileServer says:

      I’m not sure that asking a commercial company to provide this type of service for FREE is the best way to go. Somewhere along the line it’s going to cost and asking a private company to pick up the tab is wrong.

      Maybe asking the social housing tenants to provide their services in return for a discount on internet access might be better for them. It’s partly down to giving everything for free that has got this country in such a mess. There needs to be give and take from both sides and not just one sided.

    2. MikeW says:

      Reading the words carefully, I wonder if the real commercial business comes from what is deployed on the rooftop. Perhaps this is 4G, perhaps part of an urban wireless/microwave backhaul. Something that delivers high bandwidth at roof level for wider paid services.

      The business of offering broadband to tenants below roof level looks to be a side-effect.

  2. Roy Flavin says:

    ok the tax payer is stumping uponce again to provide a free service to the so called disadvantaged again in Leeds when the council tax is about to be raised for social services in the city why o why are people in this situation not given access to the services in local authority buildings where usage can be monitored, rather than free tablets to use along with free broadband this is why it is better off to be a claimant in their benifit system than go to work and earn tge right to have these benifits Leeds Council their digital officer and the rest of these handout dogodders should realise this is why the Country voted in the conseratives to cut the benifit system this is just anothey way of giving handouts to their voters who would not if I were getting freebies without any effort I would keep these people in office

    1. 125uS says:

      It’s got bad I hear some people can’t even afford to buy full stops or commas.

    2. Facepalm says:

      This rant would be a lot more effective if it weren’t misspelled and almost entirely devoid of punctuation.

      Just FYI about 60% of households in the country take more out of the system than they put in in taxes.

    3. JustAnotherFileServer says:

      @Facepalm 60% you say? No wonder the UK is a 3rd world country.

    4. Facepalm says:

      I’d recommend a trip to countries that can actually be described as third world. Spoiler: they are nothing like here.

    5. JustAnotherFileServer says:

      Don’t worry Facepalm, I’ve already been to many third world countries to help those who need it. There is a very big difference between those who need the help and those that just want everything for free.

      This country has given away far too much for free. I’ve even had people come up to me and boast that they’ve just spent 25 thousand pounds on a new caravan and had a new car for free (courtesy of being in receipt of DLA) and at the same time plead poverty by being in social housing.

      This giving things for free needs to stop as this country can no longer afford it.

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