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Telecoms Operators Spent £940m on UK COVID-19 Support

Friday, January 22nd, 2021 (8:33 am) - Score 720
covid-19 virus broadband isp uk

A new Assembly Research study has found that UK broadband ISPs and mobile operators responded quickly to the COVID-19 crisis and have so far provided a colossal £940m worth of support, such as via free allowances (data, calls and texts), special packages, zero rated data on websites, discounts and support for online learning etc.

More than 50 such initiatives in the UK have been tracked, which included 20 that directly addressed the needs of the most vulnerable (worth £340m – 34.6% of the total), 19 that were made available to all customers (£250m), 6 were targeted at key healthcare workers (£220m) and 4 were aimed to help small and medium sized businesses recover (£130m).

Many of these initiatives are likely to remain in place until life returns closer to normal, which means that the total amount of money being spent by operators – across the sector – to help support their customers will continue to rise for at least the next few months. The study also noted that “broadly similar” initiatives have also been launched around the world in nearly 20 other countries.

However, the findings largely only reflect those initiatives from the largest fixed line and mobile operators (e.g. BT [EE], O2, Three UK, Virgin Media and Vodafone in the UK). We have also seen some significant support being provided by smaller ISPs too, such as Hyperoptic and CommunityFibre, which may thus not have been included into the aforementioned total.

Assembly Research Statement

The coronavirus pandemic changed overnight the way people interact with each other. As measures were put in place to reduce physical contact to slow the spread of the virus, telecoms operators saw an increase in demand for connectivity as more people worked, studied and entertained themselves from home.

Recognising the need to be connected, and the financial hardship customers faced, many operators took steps to ensure access to vital services. As the course of the pandemic continued, so too did the support offered to consumers and businesses.

In nearly every country, operators have become more understanding and supportive towards consumers and businesses who cannot afford to pay their bills on time. In some parts of Italy, which were among the most affected by COVID-19 initially, operators offered free connectivity or refrained from credit actions for some time.

Offers tailored to healthcare workers have been common in countries such as Australia, Spain, and Italy, and initiatives to facilitate students with remote learning and homeschooling have been provided in more than 10 other countries.

In fairness, both the UK Government and Ofcom also deserve some credit for helping to nudge providers into offering some of these additional support structures. On the other hand, it’s worth considering that such costs often end up being recuperated elsewhere, which in some cases may mean larger than usual price hikes further down the road or other changes.

In some related news, ASDA are giving away 7,000 laptops to schools, each of which will have a tech bundle that includes a headset and a mobile broadband dongle with a data allowance of 20GB supplied by Vodafone. The dongle and data allowance has been funded by a £500,000 contribution from the retailer’s charity arm, The Asda Foundation.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar Alex says:

    Here before the vitriol begins.
    Well done telecoms industry!

    1. Avatar Spurple says:

      vitriol you shall get. 🙂

      I am not foolish enough to think this doesn’t mean more price rises. Already got the letter telling me of £3.50 a month price rise.

      I have no worries supporting others, and a bit simplistic to frame this as some kind of charity by the telcos. As the article says, they will recover this money elsewhere, usually from other customers.

  2. Avatar Phil says:

    It’s just another form of borrowing our way out of this crisis, it will all have to be paid back. Even if not paid back less profit by those companies impacts pension schemes of us all, and means less corporation tax is received by the government, so the government borrows more! No such thing as a free lunch. Provided the support has gone to those most in need I’m not unhappy at paying a bit more for my internet later to make up for it.

  3. Avatar s says:

    …while at the same time, many mobile operators made huge increases to prices on their PAYG tariffs. Clapping for them to be done with one hand only.

  4. Avatar JmJohnson says:

    Also many ISPs have withdrawn from the “voluntary” code of practices regarding speed and faults.
    Example being many ISPs are now giving a guaranteed speed well below the OR handback threshold.

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