The isolation of the pandemic prompted some of the last holdouts to sign up for internet plans last year, new figures from Ofcom reveal.
Currently, 1.5 million UK households don’t have internet access, around 6%. This is down from the 11% who didn’t have internet before the coronavirus crisis.
The telecoms regulator said the crisis, closing shops and banks, requiring many to shield and self-isolate and migrating everything from family reunions to grocery shopping online, led many people to “take a leap of faith” onto the internet.
However, many households continue to go without broadband, including disproportionate numbers of those over age 65, those with low incomes and the most financially vulnerable.
Nearly half of those who haven’t joined the online world say they find the internet too complicated or have no interest in it. For another third, the barrier is lack of equipment, such as computers and tablets.
However, around 60% of those without internet access at home have asked someone to do something online for them in the past year, often helping them make a purchase. This suggests that Britons without internet access are going to find life increasingly difficult, particularly if some of the changes prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, such as the closure of bank branches and prioritisation of online banking, are permanent.
For those Britons, the coronavirus crisis has only magnified the digital divide, Ofcom said.
Yih-Choung Teh, strategy and research group director at Ofcom, said: “For many people, lockdown will leave a lasting legacy of improved online access and better digital understanding. But for a significant minority of adults and children, it’s only served to intensify the digital divide.”
The regulator is committed to helping more people reap the benefits of the internet.
“We’ll continue to work with government and other partner organisations to promote digital literacy and ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds are empowered to share in the benefits of the internet,” Yih-Choung Teh said.
To increase the accessibility of the internet, Ofcom has encouraged broadband providers to offer discounted social tariffs for those on low incomes. Virgin Media and Hyperoptic have both recently launched affordable plans for those on benefits, while BT has extended its social tariff to offer fibre speeds. The regulator is also conducting research into the affordability of the sector, which it said may lead to it requiring ISPs to offer social tariffs.
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