Barnet Council has agreed to look at how they can address the digital divide in the borough following a motion from Labour’s Cllr Sara Conway at last week’s Housing & Growth Committee (6 July).
The motion titled ‘Digital access in estates and across the Borough’ stated that:
“The pandemic has highlighted that many residents have no digital access, and this has been a particular challenge for those shielding, especially as so much of the guidance and community support information has been and will continue to be delivered online. I ask that the Committee consider this issue and ask officers for a report back on how the Council might assist. In particular:
- getting an idea of the extent of the digital deficit in the borough
- increasing the supply of dongles
- what can be done to get all estates online
- a faster rollout of fibre optic broadband across the borough
- considering best practice models like Community Fibre, to connect communities and community centres.”
Barnet Labour’s Communities Spokesperson, Cllr Sara Conway said:
“The Covid crisis has exposed and increased long-standing digital inequalities.
“Where people must stay at home this digital division can increase health and economic inequalities, including for the disabled, the elderly, and those shielding.
“These days most things are done online and with a debit/credit card, with few other options.
“There are still a surprisingly large number of people who do not have computers or smart phones, and people are struggling to do basic things like accessing crucial services and advice from the online community hub as well as shopping.
“This is not just an issue of hardware but of internet and data access. We need to look at all the possible solutions including providing dongles, SIM cards and WiFi.
“Barnet rolled out 30 minutes of free WiFi in 14 town centres in 2016, but we need to think wider than this, and focus on more areas where connecting people will make a difference to addressing inequality, including housing estates and community centres.
“There are some really great best practice projects out there, like Community Fibre, who are rolling out fast fibre broadband to community centres, and the Clarion Housing Group project to get people online, boost digital skills and connect volunteers.
“Concerns about this issue have been repeatedly raised with us by those working at the frontline in the charity and community sectors, so I welcome the Committee unanimously supporting a request to officers for a report back on how the Council might assist.”
- A copy of Cllr Conway’s member’s item can be found here: https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s59201/Members%20Items%20-%206%20July%202020.pdf
- Community Fibre: https://communityfibre.co.uk/community-connect
- Clarion HG:
Free WiFi in Barnet’s town centres: https://www.barnet.gov.uk/news/free-wi-fi-available-town-centres