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Mobile Operators Offer Free Data to Disadvantaged Schoolchildren

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Three and EE (BT) have followed Vodafone’s lead by offering free data to disadvantaged schoolchildren to help them continue their studies during lockdown.

But while Vodafone’s offer is only for 30GB of data, Three and EE are offering SIMs with unlimited data.

Under Three’s new partnership with the Department for Education (DfE), schools can request assistance for children identified as not having internet at home. Three will give those children a SIM with unlimited mobile data through the end of the school year in July at no charge.

Pupils will still need a smartphone or mobile router to use the SIM—it’s unclear if Three is also providing the equipment—and need to receive a good mobile broadband signal at home.

Elaine Carey, Three UK’s Chief Commercial Officer, said: “Education is crucial for everyone in society and it is vital no child misses out. Three UK wants to support those families that need access to connectivity to support their child’s learning needs during the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, BT and EE have upped their initial offer of 20GB to “disadvantaged families” to match Three’s pledge. Their Lockdown Learning scheme will now offer SIMs with unlimited data. 

It’s also offering free WiFi vouchers to schools and charity partners, to be used on BT’s network of 18 million WiFi hotspots. 

These hotspots are often in public locations closed due to the lockdown. However, some are linked to the routers of households with BT connections. Anyone living next to a house with a BT subscription may be able to hop onto a hotspot from home.

BT has also announced plans to put zero rating on educational websites, meaning people can access them without using their data allowance.

Marc Allera, CEO of BT Group’s Consumer Division, said: "We’ve been working closely with the DfE since the start of the pandemic, to help get kids connected, and we’re now stepping up our partnership to offer unlimited data, as well as working harder on getting free WiFi passes into the hands of those families and kids that need them.

“We’re also aiming to zero rate some of the most popular learning portals this month, to ensure critical learning can continue even when data access runs out. We’ll reveal more on this in the coming week.”

However, a recent article on the BBC has called into question the usefulness of these voucher schemes for schoolchildren and their families. BT began offering WiFi vouchers to disadvantaged schoolchildren in June but alleges that the Department for Education struggled to distribute the vouchers effectively and returned them.

DfE responded that pilot project showed the scheme didn’t deliver “reliable and consistent” internet connections.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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