Telenet starts pilot project with basic internet for vulnerable families
Operator reaches out to social organisations and local authorities to help shape digital inclusion
- Telenet wants to make an effective contribution to digital inclusion in Belgium and, to this end, actively collaborate with local OCMWs, educational institutions, and social and civil society organisations.
- Starting in December, Telenet, together with the social organisations, will launch the first test of its ‘Telenet Essential Internet’ solution: basic internet at a fixed rate of 5 euros per month for vulnerable groups who have no or only very limited internet connection at home.
- Telenet will extend the Wi-Fi voucher programme through the end of this academic year. It allows families with school-age children to connect to the more than 1.5 million Telenet Wi-Fi signal locations free of charge.
Starting in December, Telenet will focus more intently on digital inclusion and will develop a structural plan for this purpose. The company wants to provide basic internet for vulnerable groups who have no or only very limited internet access at home, so that they too have the opportunity to participate in the digital society. This ‘Telenet Essential Internet’ solution works via the mobile network and will only be offered via social organisations such as the Public Centres for Social Welfare (OMCW) and organisations that are committed to the digital inclusion of disadvantaged groups. As of December, Telenet wants to test the connectivity solution in Mechelen, a second city in Flanders and Brussels. In the course of 2021, Telenet wants to roll out the project more widely in both regions. Telenet will also continue to offer its Wi-Fi voucher programme for free internet access to its more than 1.5 million Wi-Fi locations through at least 30 June 2021. Over 6,000 families from Flanders and Brussels have already taken advantage of this to stay in touch with the school in recent months.
COVID-19 significantly magnified the digital divide in our society. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to shift up a digital gear, certain groups were simply cut off from society. They lack the tools or skills to go online. The results from the King Baudouin Foundation’s recent Digital Inclusion Barometer speak for themselves: last year, 650,000 Belgian households (10%) had no access to the internet at home. 3 in 10 low-income households do not have an internet connection. And 1 in 3 Belgians has limited basic digital skills.
More than ever, technology is the key to active participation in the digital society. Through concrete and structural digital inclusion initiatives and connectivity solutions, Telenet remains committed to making an effective contribution to this societal challenge as a telecom operator.
Free internet via Telenet WiFree
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Telenet has distributed login codes to families looking for opportunities with school-age children and young people in secondary education via educational institutions and social organisations, such as OCMWs. If you don’t have an internet connection at home, you can connect to Telenet’s 1.5 million public Wi-Fi points free of charge. Over 6,000 families, mainly from Flanders and Brussels, have been using this free internet access since March. The resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of the new school year made it clear that the need is still high. Telenet has once again seen an increase in the number of requests for login codes. That is why the company has decided to extend this Wi-Fi voucher programme, which can be used in times of crisis, through at least 30 June 2021.
Basic internet at 5 euros for 10,000 families
Telenet wants to go a step further and make a structural contribution to get vulnerable target groups on the digital train. That’s why it developed ‘Telenet Essential Internet’ with which it wants to offer basic internet at a fixed rate of 5 euros per month to very vulnerable families and individuals. Using a small device that converts the mobile phone signal (4G) into a Wi-Fi signal, families can surf the basic internet at home, for example, to do homework, look for work, or look up information online. Starting in December, Telenet wants to test the solution, in close consultation with local social organisations, with 700 families in two cities in Flanders and in Brussels. A collaboration with the city of Mechelen and Deelbaar Mechelen has already been started. In the spring of 2021, after a thorough evaluation, the company wants to roll out the programme on a larger scale in Flanders and Brussels. Telenet wants to help a total of 10,000 vulnerable families in our country by the end of next year. It will then look at upscaling even more.
To this end, the telecom operator is reaching out to social organisations, such as the Public Centres for Social Welfare (OMCW), and associations that work on the digital inclusion of vulnerable target groups. After all, they can best reach those people who need internet access the most. But they can also identify distribution and technical support needs.
"In our country, almost all households are covered via the fixed or mobile 4G network. And yet not everyone can enjoy internet access. This urgently needs to change. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced how important connectivity is and how people who do not have access to it get excluded. Based on our belief that technology is the engine of social progress, as a strongly locally anchored company, we are committed to helping break the digital divide that affects vulnerable audiences. Telenet has the technological expertise to offer a connectivity solution, but we do not have all the knowledge in-house to offer a ready-made answer to the problem of the digital divide: for which target group is this solution most relevant, how do we reach them, and how do we guide them in dealing with digital applications? That is why we want to develop the ‘Telenet Essential Internet’ solution in dialogue and cooperation with social partners such as OCMWs and organisations that are committed to digital inclusion. We are convinced that we will learn a lot from the first test and will be able to roll out our programme more widely on this basis. By working closely together, we can best reach these vulnerable people and families and make an effective contribution to reducing the digital divide.”
John Porter, CEO Telenet
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital connectivity. Everyone deserves access to the internet; otherwise, you cannot fully participate in our society. Telenet rightly appeals to the local authorities to reach the most vulnerable because they are best placed to know who does not yet have access to the internet and can use a boost. In addition to Telenet's initiative, we have also cleared 50 million euros available under the Flemish recovery plan to improve the digital skills of the most vulnerable and to guarantee internet access via the local UiTpas. In this way, we are working together towards a digital society that gives everyone opportunities to be part of."
Bart Somers, Flemish Minister of the InteriorO de Telenet
Digital inclusion does not stop with internet access. Hardware, such as laptops, and strengthening basic digital skills are also needed to make it possible for underprivileged families to participate in the digital society. Telenet will therefore offer the ‘Essential Internet’ solution in cooperation with social organisations that – thanks to a strong local partner network – focus on access to ICT resources, technical support through ‘digibuddies’, and digital skills training. This integrated approach should be the starting point for Telenet’s broader engagement in digital inclusion projects.
The telecom operator also wants to contribute constructively to the Flemish Government’s ambition to close the digital divide, and to the design of the STEM Expertise Centre that the Wallonia-Brussels Federation intends to set up next year.
Starting in December, Telenet wants to test the solution with 700 families in Mechelen, Brussels and a second city in Flanders. The local social organisation Deelbaar Mechelen vzw is looking forward to the collaboration.
“In order to help vulnerable families access a laptop with an internet connection, it is very important for us to work closely with the City of Mechelen, the Sociaal Huis organisation, the schools, and Telenet as well. If all partners give the maximum from the possibilities and limitations of their organisation, there is so much more to share in the end. Our volunteers’ enthusiasm helps us ensure that it remains fun to help people move forward in the digital society.”
Kris Bauwelinck, Deelbaar Mechelen vzw