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LibDems in New Push for Mandatory UK Social Broadband Tariffs

Friday, Jan 21st, 2022 (12:06 pm) - Score 2,496
Hands holding mail with Paying bills. Payment of utility, bank, restaurant and other. Flat design modern vector illustration concept.

The MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Jamie Stone – with backing from 14 Liberal Democrat peers, is to meet with the UK Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez, in an attempt to force all broadband ISPs to offer mandatory “universal social tariffs” to help those who are struggling to pay their bills.

Broadband and mobile services in the UK are often considered to be quite reasonably priced, but there are always those – often in the most disadvantaged groups (i.e. low income, unemployed etc.) – who may struggle with paying their bills. The latter has become a much bigger problem during the COVID-19 crisis, which is also being exasperated by a surge in inflation and the rising cost of key services, such as energy (gas and electric).

The Government and Ofcom have so far been responding to this by encouraging more UK ISPs to proactively introduce and promote low-cost social tariffs. The regulator has also previously warned of further action if providers fail to put more effort into tackling this issue, which they said could include the potential introduction of an industry-wide regulated social tariff.

Since then, BT has significantly improved their existing social broadband tariffs (Home Essentials) and they’ve also been joined by new or enhanced tariffs from several other providers, including Virgin Media (Essential Broadband), Hyperoptic (Fair Fibre Plans) and KCOM (Flex). CommunityFibre also offered one, but that was only made available until end of July 2021.

Despite this, Jamie Stone still wants to see all ISPs introducing such tariffs and, as well as being supported by those in his own party, he’s also likely to be backed in this endeavour by various consumer groups (here) and other cross-party MPs (here).

Jamie Stone MP said (John O Groat Journal):

“I want to see all broadband providers offering universal social tariffs, and I want the Government to exercise their power to make this mandatory. The recent rule change makes this very easy.

With rural areas already struggling from patchy coverage, ever-increasing energy costs, and higher bills from spending more time at home during the pandemic, discounts on broadband could make a huge difference.

I look forward to meeting with [Julia Lopez] so we can get the ball rolling on this and ensure that households aren’t paying more than they need to on broadband costs.”

At this stage it’s not clear precisely when the meeting with Julia Lopez will actually take place or what it might achieve, we only know that the meeting itself has been secured. But forcing the introduction of a social tariff on all ISPs is a big ask and may not have the desired impact, particularly among smaller players that already have to struggle against the market’s largest ISPs – the latter have economics of scale on their side.

Broadband and mobile provision also tends to be a commercial business with fairly low margins, which makes it difficult for such providers to permanently gift super cheap (loss making) packages to lots of people without putting themselves at risk, or forcing bigger price rises on to other customers. Some of these issues might be solvable if the Government were to provide support via a new subsidy scheme, but they’ve shown little interest in that idea.

However, we think it would be better for Ofcom to first do more to tackle the lack of consumer awareness around the existence of such tariffs. For example, this could be achieved by requiring ISPs to put related products front and centre alongside their main package options, as opposed to hiding them away on separate pages that require more effort to uncover. Equally, big ISPs like Sky Broadband and TalkTalk have yet to launch such tariffs.

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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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42 Responses
  1. Avatar photo WibbledOff says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to help those that are struggling to get out of poverty, rather than just offering cheap broadband?

    There is plenty of help available, it’s just a case of people are unaware of such help or unwilling to help themselves.

    1. Avatar photo Mike says:

      Free stuff buys more votes.

    2. Avatar photo Anthony Goodman says:

      You need the internet to get out of poverty. Gone are the days where jobs are advertised on post-it notes in the local jobcentre.

    3. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Depends what’s in it for the MP’s more-like.

    4. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Now why hasn’t anyone else in the entire history of humankind managed to come up with this pearl of wisdom?

    5. Avatar photo tech3475 says:

      Last I checked the internet has become a requirement for jobseekers and allot of employers, including where I work, have shifted to online only applications.

      I also wont be surprised if there’s a rise in WFH for certain occupations such as call centre jobs.

      Even outside of this, the internet can potentially allow people to find the best deals e.g. utilities, learn new skills, etc.

    6. Avatar photo Brian says:

      Not always even a local job centre, ours was closed a few years ago, nearest job centre is 30miles away.

  2. Avatar photo El Guapo says:

    too bad they’re irrelevant.

  3. Avatar photo Sam P says:

    The lib dems can do one lol

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      All three parties can “do one”.

  4. Avatar photo Libertarian says:

    Once again libdems showing their true authoritarian leftist colors

    Free buys votes and that’s all they care about

    If they were so concerned about the poor people not getting internet then just cut taxes for them, not have fibre providers foot the bill

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      What kind of tax cuts did you have in mind given we already have one of the highest income levels before taxation in the world? VAT? We have different prices in stores for different people? What could go wrong?

      It’s actually pretty funny. On the one hand libertarians are going crazy over how much tax is paid by those on the highest incomes, on the other there are people like you informing that the tax base should be even more heavily top-loaded. Also amusing is that most of those that are net contributors, metropolitan elite as we are, don’t hold such attitudes, they’re mostly held by those that are net recipients from the state.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Absolutely it should be top tax loaded. Which explains why the top 1% doubled their wealth in the last 2 years, they evade/avoid all their tax bills. Those of us on PAYE don’t have that privilege.

    3. Avatar photo Libertarian says:

      Libertarian literally means less government. If the government wants to help the poor then it shouldn’t penalize private companies through leftist price controls.

      I suggested taking out tax from the bill, but I much rather have the government stay away

    4. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      I would be delighted to trade marginal tax rates with you, Lugz.

      I pay 61% on some of my income and my average across the whole lot is over 40%. I’m not sure how much more you had in mind given the average household income?

      Push me much harder I take an internal transfer elsewhere in the company and the UK goes from receiving a pretty scary amount of money a year to zero.

      Plenty of people on PAYE making a few quid and paying their tax bills in full. Most of my credits on my tax bill are Gift Aid.

    5. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Mr Libertarian: check the price of Internet services in the USA.

      Remove regulation Openreach stop PIA, charge what they like to kill off the business case for alternative networks then ratchet up their pricing once the duopoly has returned.

      VMO2 have a responsibility to their shareholders to charge as much as possible and of course will.

      Broadband is basically an essential utility now, and one prone to monopolies. Ignoring this isn’t libertarian it’s corporatist and short-sighted.

      In my ideal world we’d all have a fibre pair going into our property that may be lit any way we and our chosen provider decide. That would require extensive regulation to be economically viable.

      Small government is always superficially appealing for those of us with means, however it comes with many complications and is incredibly hard to balance.

      Our tax burden right now is abysmal. Policies to reduce that would be good rather than worrying about regulation. Shredding the state doesn’t work.

    6. Avatar photo Libertarian says:

      @anon you’re right in saying that price controls for Openreach offer a competitive environment, but the reason it is needed is because Openreach had a government aided monopoly for decades and decades. This is precisely the case in the US where competition is not allowed and the monopoly dictates prices

      The reason why small government doesn’t seem achievable is because of incompetent and corrupt politicians, as well as the fact that democracy itself is a flawed system: politicians enact policies to earn votes and stay in power. A wise man once said the best argument against democracy is a 3min conversation with the average voter

      Regardless, communism does not work. Politicians that want to advocate for communism
      and commie policies should never be in positions of power

  5. Avatar photo human644454 says:


    Any comments that question other users on here get deleted? Makes sense.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      No but not ones where you keep posting empty comments with no content – one after the other – from different usernames, thus spamming, certainly do.

  6. Avatar photo Terry Froy says:

    As a smaller provider, I do not have a problem with it if the underlying wholesale network (i.e. TalkTalk Business, BT Wholesale, etc) and Openreach are naturally providing the same level of discount that the retail provider will be required to offer.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew Ingram says:

      I agree.
      As a small Internet provider I already struggle to compete due to the bt wholesale prices. We would love to offer the cheaper deals to people that need it but need some way of bt passing on the discount.

      We have started to deploy some WiFi in places we kmow had large poverty as this is a way to get around the costs that are placed on.

  7. Avatar photo cheesemp says:

    Without the internet its nearly impossible to do anything nowadays from applying for jobs, banking, to doing school work. I don’t think anyone is saying a high quality connection should be given for free but a basic slow (probably data capped) connection should be available for those who can’t afford better. The internet isn’t as essential as power and water but its getting as close to essential as its possible to be without being essential. To be fair the real power to implement this lies with openreach (or kcom).

    1. Avatar photo nabs says:

      A basic connection of say 5-10Mbps should be available to everyone at a fair price.
      That connection should heavily prioritise essential online services; job centres, banking, government sites, educational sites etc. whilst giving very low priority to more ‘luxury’ services, Xbox, Playstation, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.

      Restricting access like this should keep data use and therefore costs down for the providers.
      I don’t know what sort of margins the ISPs work to but I’m sure the regulator could look at implementing some sort of profit cap on these types of lines so providers are only allowed to make a small (if any) profit. If the cap was applied throughout the supply chain then a basic service should be achievable by all ISPs at a price point that’s affordable to almost everyone

    2. Avatar photo Ben says:

      What kind of discounted connection are you guys talking about?
      You can get a 4G MiFi modem pretty cheap, they’re £64.99 on Argos

      TP-Link M7350 4G LTE Mobile Wi-Fi Router = [Argos Store Code: 862/4969]

      Combine that with a SMARTY SIM = [LATEST SMARTY OFFER: 40GB for £10]
      That is more than enough to apply for jobs and bit of fun.

      There’s just waaaay too many scroungers in this country. I left home with NOTHING.
      Worked worked worked until I had money to pay my own bills and buy what I want.

      All this claiming benefits and declaring oneself “low income” is a just LAZINESS.

      Sorry don’t believe “low income” is real. It should be rebranded “I’m so stupid with money”

  8. Avatar photo William Wilkinson says:

    We seem to be moving further and further away from a merit based economy. We keep asking the same people who already pay for everything to pay more and more. One part of society works hard and spends their money carefully, saves for the future and raises their children properly. These people pay for those who do the complete opposite and rely on the state giving them everything for free.

  9. Avatar photo human644454 says:

    The comments section here reads like an echo chamber, aimed mostly at bashing the poor.

    Where in the article does it say the Lib-Dems want to give poor people everything for free?

    But most of you saw the headline and didn’t bother to read the article.

    Here is what it actually says “there are always those – often in the most disadvantaged groups (i.e. low income, unemployed etc.) – who may struggle with paying their bills”.

    So, a ‘social tariff’ would lower the cost of entry, so that everyone can afford to pay for some form of internet access.

  10. Avatar photo anon686565 says:

    [admin note: please stop spamming comments like a robot from the same connection, but with different usernames all the time anonXXXX/humanXXXX]

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Yes it is rather annoying. own your comments.

  11. Avatar photo Matt says:

    I have got to say, I’m just totally against these kinds of interventions. All of this is effectively a tax applied through consumers’ broadband bills. I know it’s deeply policically unpopular but look, broadband is an essential service and we should either increase benifits so that people can afford a basic broadband service and to pay rent/eat/energy etc or offer broadband ‘vouchers’ or similar that can be redeemed at any participating ISP at face value, increasing general taxation to pay for it if needed.

    These always have unindented consequences… think about a infrastructure ISP like hyperoptic or Gigaclear, now faced with a ‘council’ tower block perhaps they decide that as they have to give away service at a discount it’s better for them to not bring service to it.. and spend more per permise passed on a commercial block of flats. Gigaclear fibre every house in a village except those cluster of 10 council houses etc.

    Daft idea.

    1. Avatar photo Ben says:


      Completely agree with you! Very valid point. Could easily happen with internal memo to planners saying ‘skip social housing installs as we will lose money’

      Similarly, talking about unintended consequences, certain folk in the UK have petitioned relentlessly for the TV License to be abolished.

      They moan about being forced to pay the £159 a year ‘TV Tax’ (£3/week)
      It is now looking like these people now have their wishes come true.

      Next, we’ll have a digital services tax or broadband tax instead which will probably cost us all a whole lot more than a TV License ever did.

      It’s always puzzled me why the same people don’t moan when their council tax goes up that much in A YEAR.

    2. Avatar photo Libertarian says:


      The BBC tax makes no sense for everyone to pay for woke propaganda and much less for people who don’t even watch it. If I never watch TV then why should I pay for it?

      Tax hikes are bad no matter which one it is, people have to make noise and vote out those proposing tax increases. The french know how to make their voices heard when taxes go up, the UK could learn from them

    3. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Yes a daft idea. Like taxing us on petrol, then adding VAT to the tax. Or taxing us for using roads and then not putting the money back into roads. Like everything else, this is a tax to line the pockets of those in power, not to improve anything in the long run.

  12. Avatar photo Neil says:

    I’d prefer UBI instead of separate subsidies and discounts.

    But if a social tariff approach is to apply, I’d suggest making it a fixed discount on a “normal” package, rather than a fixed price, on the basis that making the price of premium ISPs the same as the price of basic ISPs makes no sense.

    To make it work, I’d also expect to see an equivalent obligation imposed on wholesale carriers, and presumably infrastructure providers below them where relevant, to offer the same discounts, so it is not just a cost borne by retail ISPs.

    1. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

      Paying people to not work is a terrible idea as evidenced in the US with record amount of jobs open and unemployment. GenZ especially will simply not work and spend their entire time on TikTok. On this case it is somehow less stupid than providers being compelled to lose money though

      The user above got it right, poor areas already are less viable. It would just make providers avoid these areas if the government makes them even less viable

  13. Avatar photo John says:

    Did someone press the wrong button and merge this page with the Daily Mail comments section?

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:


    2. Avatar photo Lol says:

      Go back to the guardian comment section if real people’s comments trigger you

  14. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Broadband is already relatively cheap and any low costs deals would need to be subsidised in some way and who will pay for that ?

  15. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    Wouldn’t it be better if MP’s actually did they’re job and served the electorate instead of finding ways to financially benefit themselves?

    1. Avatar photo anon5775 says:

      Indeed, why even have elections at all, the voters might actually be offered something that would help many of them to get by, shocking.

      Your solution is for them to do nothing in parliament, it’s a top class suggestion guys.

  16. Avatar photo Rob says:

    As was mentioned in the article if the people who these social tariffs are aimed at knew about them rather than being hidden away then a lot of the work has already been done. Maybe suggest that the different ISPs that provide them already, name them the same to again raise awareness and make it easier for people to ask for them in the first place.

  17. Avatar photo proudbritishvoter says:

    Reading the comments section makes me so proud of the British public, surely, things can get better, with so many brilliant ideas???

Comments are closed

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