The regulator said ISPs have a moral obligation to help customers through the cost-of-living crisis.
More and more families are struggling with their internet bills, often linked to inflation and which have been soaring this year. Along with everything else.
Lindsey Fossell, director of the networking and communications group at Ofcom, told Sky News they know that people all over the country Struggling with their bills at the moment.
“It is essential that broadband and mobile services be accessible to all,” she said. “Especially for those who are already in financial trouble right now, any project can be a problem.
“That’s why we’ve been encouraging companies to make what we call social tariffs available. These are low-cost offers for people in particularly difficult financial circumstances.
“And we certainly believe that carriers really have a moral duty to make these kinds of offers available, and to make sure that people are aware of them so that people can take advantage of the best deal possible.”
Internet providers are engaging with the Ministry of Culture, Media and Sports on how to support customers through the cost of living crisis, and have pledged to help customers who can no longer afford their bills.
But many families are turning to data banks: like a food bank, but using vouchers or SIM cards for mobile Internet data, which helps people access the Internet.
The Goodies Foundation is behind this idea.
Chief Executive Helen Milner told Sky News the charity was struggling to keep up with demand.
“Now with the cost of living, the price of broadband, whether it’s fixed or mobile, comes like this,” she said.
“We can’t really roll over [our data bank service] Fast enough – the need is too huge.”
She said that while Internet access has improved over the past few years, the so-called “digital divide” between those who can connect to the Internet and those who can’t, is deepening.
“People who are left behind are getting more and more behind,” she said. “And often the people who suffer and who are excluded from the benefit of using the Internet are also the ones who suffer financially as well.”
Citizen Advice warned that more than two million people defaulted on their bills last year.
It’s likely to get worse.
Families have been told to prepare for steeper energy bills this winter
Where you live can have a huge impact on the impact of the cost of living crisis on you
As food and fuel prices rise, it raises the official measure of inflation: the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
This, in turn, increases the cost of things, such as internet and mobile phone contracts, which correlate with the CPI and rise in line with inflation each year.
This hasn’t been an issue in the past few years while inflation was below the Bank of England’s 2% target, but now, when inflation peaks at 11% this year, it’s suddenly sharp.
It comes at a time when we are more dependent on the Internet than ever before.
Since the pandemic, more of our lives — our jobs, our education, our health service — have moved online.
If you can’t get online, you often can’t apply for jobs, do your homework, get benefits, or talk to a GP.
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It’s an essential component, says Ernest Ducaux, communications expert at Uswitch.com, just like gas and electricity.
He said they saw an influx of people seeking advice about rising bills.
“Last year in particular, we’ve seen prices go up,” he said. “Specifically, the higher prices in the middle of the decade, the ones that correlate with inflation. Those are the prices that really shocked consumers.
“Broadband has become very important to many, so prices are increasing and consumers are being pushed out of the broadband market. It is pointless for them to be without it.”
As with many aspects of this cost of living crisis, it is not likely to improve any time soon.
In the meantime, customers are advised to speak to their service provider if they are struggling and seek support for a social tariff or switch to a cheaper tariff.
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