The public sector must start working together to address digital inclusion

Poverty costs everyone a lot of money – from the families themselves via the poverty premium, to health and social care services, schools and housing. In fact, the impact of families living in poverty affects every part of the public sector, taking up 25% of health spending, more than a third of the housing budget and 60% of children’s social care expenditure.

A 2016 report by Heriot Watt and Loughborough Universities found that dealing with the consequences of poverty costs the public purse £78 billion a year – that’s £1,200 for every person in the UK. While it falls to the whole of society to take action to address the underlying causes, it is also the duty of each public service to manage the consequences of poverty as effectively and efficiently as possible. This means reducing its impact on families while also finding ways to reduce the impact on each service’s budget, allowing it to free valuable funds to help more people.

The allure of digitising services

The squeeze on public finances has run parallel to the boom in technology, with every organisation now searching for digital solutions to help improve the service they provide and save money at the same time. Unsurprisingly, each public service is focused on solving its own problems, but this has led to the mistaken impression that each problem is unique to them.

The NHS is continually exploring ways in which new technology can benefit its patients. Telehealth, for example, involves the use of health technology to monitor patients’ conditions remotely, meaning they are no longer required to stay in hospital and can live more independent lives at home. An NHS telehealth trial in Kent was found to reduce hospital admissions by 50% for the disease that was monitored, while home visits were also cut by 80%, resulting in savings of £1.2 million.

In a previous post, we mentioned a number of ways in which social housing providers are looking to digitise, including using artificial intelligence and big data to improve services to their tenants. Similarly, local authorities are searching for new ways to engage residents through digital services, reducing expenditure while allowing users to access adult and children’s social care services via apps, online portals and digital self-assessment forms.

The problem of digital exclusion

The focus on digital helps to cut costs and offers users the chance to engage on their own terms, but organisations are relying on the assumption that their users will have the means to access digital services. This is far less likely when dealing with families in poverty: Ofcom figures show that working-age people living in the poorest households are three times as likely to not have internet access compared to the national average. This leaves a sizeable portion of deprived service users at a further disadvantage: unable to benefit from digital services with alternative options dwindling as the channel shift picks up pace.

The point here is that digital exclusion affects every public organisation that has a duty of care to its service users. More often than not the responsibility for ensuring everyone can access online services falls to landlords or an individual department within a local authority, but this needs to change.

Instead of focusing on solving universal problems such as digital exclusion in silos, public sector organisations will achieve a far greater impact by pooling their respective resources, expertise and capabilities.

The causes of poverty cannot be addressed by a single charity, organisation, business or community, and neither can the consequences.

Why wireless beats fibre optic broadband

Most internet providers will tell you that fibre optic broadband is the future. Well, they aren’t exactly fibbing, but they are being pretty liberal with the truth. Sure, connecting your home directly to fibre optic broadband (known in the biz as ‘FTTP’) is better than using traditional copper cables: It’s faster and your speed is no longer affected by how far your home is from the internet exchange. But upgrading your broadband is like a buying a remote control aeroplane – if you really want to take off, cables kind of defeat the purpose. Here’s why:

The technology is already almost out of date

Work has only just begun to install FTTP cables across the UK, which are expected to be able to deliver home broadband at speeds of approximately 1 Gbps. That’s 1,000 Mbps – pretty fast compared to average speeds now. But in reality, broadband technology is only a few years away from being capable of delivering internet that is much, much faster.

This means that by the time all the fancy new cable has been laid to connect homes directly to fibre optic broadband (which is likely to be some point in the next decade), it will already be hopelessly unable to cope with the speeds that other technology will be capable of. And the only way to bring it up to date is spend another decade re-laying newer cable, only for the cycle to begin again.

Wireless technology does not suffer from the same problems as FTTP. The wireless transmitters that broadcast the broadband signal to your home are roughly the size of a packet of sugar and set on top of a mast, similar to mobile phone towers. The billions of pounds being invested in wireless technology means it is improving at an incredible rate, so whenever faster broadband becomes possible, it’s simply a matter of swapping out the transmitters for an updated version. No digging, no waiting, just the fastest broadband that modern technology can achieve, beamed directly to your home.

Fibre optic broadband availability is a real pain

If you don’t have FTTP yet, connecting your town means putting cables into the ground to connect every house in every street. That involves a LOT of closed roads, detours, noise, and the hassle of trying to get in and out of your house while dodging workmen, trenches, vans and equipment for months on end. It’s all the fun of your morning traffic jam, extended to the rest of your daytime, leisure time and down time. Plus, with the added bonus of a carbon footprint that would make a low-budget airline blush.

Wireless broadband uses radio transmitters set up around your town. They are installed in a day or two and can be maintained and upgraded without so much as a single closed road. It’s less hassle, a lower carbon footprint and will last a good 50 to 60 years before needing to be replaced.

Fibre optic broadband deals have no flexibility

Whichever provider you end up choosing, they have to cover the massive expense of the installation and maintenance of their new and improved FTTP network. Which means passing the costs on to you. You want ultra-fast speeds? It’ll cost you double what you’re paying now. Just upgraded your TV to 4K Ultra HD? Better be prepared to sign up to a brand new contract for faster broadband to cope with it. Want to downgrade your speed? There’s that brand new contract again.

Wireless broadband is more flexible (well, it is the way we do it here at 6G Internet). Because our installation and running costs are lower, our customers can choose to switch to any package that suits them without extending or renewing their contract. It’s simply a matter of picking what’s right for your household at that particular time. Stick or switch. Upgrade or downgrade. It’s fine by us and it’s up to you.

But here’s the most important bit: because we don’t need to spend as much money on our infrastructure to deliver higher speeds, we can deliver ultra-fast broadband without having to charge the inflated prices our FTTP competitors do. And as we improve our speeds and technology, our customers can enjoy ever faster broadband. The government wants most areas to be able to access 1 Gbps broadband by 2025. By that time, we will be providing internet that is six times faster – for the same price.

If you’re interested in joining the wireless revolution, check if it’s available in your area now.

Digitally-enabled social housing – all it takes is a connection

With technology already beginning to transform how services are delivered to social housing tenants, 6G Internet founder Tahir Mohsan was one of a number of experts invited to speak at this year’s Digital Housing Conference in Manchester.

Continue reading “Digitally-enabled social housing – all it takes is a connection”