Free Wi-Fi to be introduced to reduce inequality and tackle poverty

Free W-Fi Mark Lewis outdoors

We are breaking down a digital barrier that prevents some of our most vulnerable residents from accessing opportunities to improve their lives.

With the average cost of Wi-Fi in London being around £18 a month, many families find it unaffordable. As a result, they can miss out on opportunities for support services and also the ability to do other essential things to improve their lives like apply for training or jobs. It can also contribute to social isolation.

In Tower Hamlets, 24% of residents living in low income households do not have access to Wi-Ffi; 45% of those aged over 50 do not have access to Wi-Fi; 40% of residents with disabilities do not have access to Wi-Fi.

We are committed to reducing inequality and helping those living in deprivation to have the opportunities that others enjoy. As a result, Mayor John Biggs and his cabinet have approved £1.75m of investment for free Wi-Fi in our town centres and social housing. We will also arrange for free digital training for residents so they have both the infrastructure and the skills to use the free Wi-Fi.

Over 800 businesses in Brick Lane, Watney Market and Chrisp Street town centres and over 130,000 residents living within 800 metres of these centres, will benefit from this first phase roll out by autumn 2018.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “The internet plays such a big part in life these days that not being connected can be a major barrier, not only to accessing services and jobs but to keeping up with what’s going on in the world.

“Investing to make Tower Hamlets a free Wi-Fi borough will make the internet more accessible for everyone and will particularly help groups who currently struggle to afford internet access themselves and who often most need the opportunities it opens up.

“We want to change that by breaking down digital barriers. At the same time we will provide training sessions for residents and businesses to help them get the best out of this new service.”

Mark Lewis, 50, of Limehouse in Tower Hamlets, said: “Having free Wi-Fi would give me more opportunities in life. Just being connected helps me to develop my knowledge and skills, and look out for support that can improve my life and help me develop my career.

"At the moment, I cannot afford to pay for Wi-Fi where I live so I end up using data on my phone which runs out quickly and is expensive. If I have to use it in an emergency such as to applying for a job and I have no data, I have to travel each way for an hour to the library to use the computers.

"Free Wi-Fi in Tower Hamlets would make a huge difference for many people like me."

Proposed locations for the technology to be installed will depend on where there are street lighting and CCTV columns we own.

We will work with a provider and local organisations like housing associations to carry out training and act as digital champions working with residents across the borough who are not familiar with using the internet and would like help getting online.  This will be particularly helpful to residents who want to learn how to for example make video calls with relatives abroad or help their children with their homework and pay bills online. Training to use the internet will be available at our Idea Stores (libraries) from October.

This will be particularly helpful to residents who want to learn how to for example pay bills online, make video calls with relatives abroad, help their children with homework and search for training and jobs.

Posted on Wednesday 16th August 2017