NACCOM Covid-19 Resources – Digital inclusion and enabling access to the internet for service users during the pandemic

Digital inclusion is particularly important not only to help service users access vital online services during the pandemic, but to reduce social isolation and support mental health and wellbeing during this extremely challenging time.

The question of how best to support people accommodated across the network in gaining access to the internet during the lockdown has been raised by a number of NACCOM member organisations.

NACCOM has been talking to members throughout the pandemic about how different organisations are proceeding with digital inclusion in mind. We’ve summarised some of our findings below:

Some NACCOM members will simply want to be able to maintain some form of face-to-face communication through (for example) WhatsApp calls, while others might be more ambitious in delivering group ESOL or other classes online. Whatever your focus is, it is important to work out how best to provide for the people you are housing/supporting, and to be able to do this within whatever budget you have available.

Mobile phones

Some NACCOM members are topping up the mobile phones of the people they house or support, while others have been considering the provision of new SIM cards with higher data provision or unlimited data. The problem with providing new SIM cards is that the person you are supporting would have to change the existing SIM card in their phone with the added complication of porting the phone number over, or, if not, then changing their mobile phone number, which could create problems in connecting with people and services until resolved.

Data Deals

Solidaritech is a Community Interest Company that exists solely to help refugees and those seeking asylum get access to technology.  They have negotiated an 5GB data deal with provider 02 for charities in the sector – to find out more, get in touch with Solidaritech.

For higher data amounts and no tie-in to a contract both Smarty and Giffgaff have good deals. Smarty use the 3 network and Giffgaff the O2 network so this might influence your local choice.

Both Smarty and Giffgaff SIMS can be inserted into any unlocked device (phone tablet or broadband/router dongle).

WiFi

Some NACCOM members have gone ahead and installed WiFi (or were in the process of installing WiFi) in their accommodation projects, but many internet providers have now put a halt on installations until the lockdown is lifted or until they can more adequately support their staff to safely carry out installations.

Some NACCOM members are looking at the installation of plug-in broadband dongle/routers, which take a SIM card with varying amounts of data on either a monthly rolling contract or flexible plans that let you change each month or cancel anytime.

If you are wanting to give someone better access to the internet but are not wanting them to have to change the SIM card in their phone, or if you want to give a whole household better access to the internet and not have to top up lots of individual devices, then one immediate solution would be to provide a  Mobile Broadband Wi-Fi Router/Dongle into which a new SIM card with data can be inserted (see Data Deals above).

Mobile Broadband Wi-Fi Router/Dongles create a local Wi-Fi Hub and are not the same as USB Dongles that are plugged into a Laptop, PC or Tablet.

Mobile Broadband Wi-Fi Router/Dongles take a SIM card and come in a range of output capacities depending on the download speed required and number of people/devices which are going to be trying to access the internet from the Wi-Fi Router/Dongle.

Here are some examples (these are not recommendations) from Argos but there are lots of other options available on eBay or from other online retailers.

For help with getting hold of Laptops, PCs , other devices and tech support

There are a number of charities that help with the provision of Laptops, PCs and other devices. These include:

WaveLength

WaveLength gives media technology to lonely people living in poverty. A number of NACCOM members have been assisted by Wavelength so it is worth approaching them to discuss your particular requirements.

Solidaritech

Is a Community Interest Company that exists solely to help refugees and asylum seekers get access to technology. They have been inundated with requests for help with tech and therefore may have limited if any stock currently available. They are however passionate in what they do and extremely helpful so if you need help or advice so it’s worth contacting them.

Rocksalt

There are a number of independent IT consultants that provide tech support to the charity sector. Rocksalt is one such company that is used by a number of NACCOM members. One of their most recent projects during the Covid-19 lockdown has been to research and source Wi-Fi Router/Dongles for one of our larger members delivering housing. The member project wanted the best solution at the lowest cost for each house spread over a large city area. This has resulted in a mix of three different internet providers. The routers also needed to be easily installed, secure and capable of fitting into a lockable box for added security. contactus@rocksalt.org.uk

Smart phones

Finally, just a little something about phones and particularly smart phones that allow you to help the people you are supporting to access the internet and take part in WhatsApp or Zoom meetings. There are a number of 4G smart phones using the Android operating system available from between £60 and £100 from various online retailers including those that sell through the Amazon or eBay marketplace.

If you want to source phones locally one member has recommended contacting local independent stores, the sort that do phone repairs and sell refurbished or second-hand units. These stores will have lost their core trade during the lockdown and might be open to doing a deal on higher specification units they have sitting on their shelf.

Get in Touch

Finally, if NACCOM can help you further with resolving a local tech problem, then please do get in touch. We are not technical or IT wizards but as with anything at NACCOM we are here to help you find solutions or connect you with people that can help you to find solutions. Email Paul Catterall, our Network Development Worker, in the first instance.

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