Digital exclusion takes many forms. It’s something that Nominet has long been pre-occupied with, conscious of the negative consequences it has in a world and society that is becoming ever more ‘digital’.
The issue has been placed in sharper focus in these unprecedented times. As the UK responds to the COVID-19 outbreak, it became clear to the wider digital inclusion community that social distancing and self-isolation would have a serious impact on the people who are currently digitally excluded, but also have a knock-on effect to those who aren’t. As we all seek information and advice in these uncertain terms, how can we justify leaving the digitally excluded without access to the resources the rest of us can get at the touch of a button?
It is for this reason that we, in partnership with Snook, pushed for a rapid adoption of an idea that had been developing interest in the tech-for-good sector in recent months: ‘zero-rating’ essential digital services. Similar to emergency calls being free on any phone line regardless of your credit status, we wanted crucial websites to be free to access whether you have the data allowance or not. Considering the current escalating pandemic, we believed it was crucial to make vital websites – such as NHS online – freely available to all to help the country cope with these uncertain times.
And now it is, thanks to the rapid reactions and enthusiastic response from the UK’s major mobile operators and Government teams. If you have a mobile device but no data or credit, you will still be able to access the healthcare websites that you need for advice and information. Not only does this help those who would otherwise be left in the dark, it should also help ease the pressure on our health service, preventing people trying to attend their GP surgery or a hospital – or dialling 111 – as a means of getting information, potentially exacerbating things.