LB Hounslow tackles digital exclusion with high speed fibre broadband

The past year of the pandemic has shown up just how reliant school students are on having access to the internet for their studies. Something middle class families take largely for granted, the pandemic has shown that when children are forced to learn at home instead of in school, many students from low income families do not have the same access to learning. They either don’t have a laptop or PC to use, or they don’t have the internet connection they need to use them.

It’s not just children and teenagers who are disadvantaged by not being able to access the internet. The provision of many services now rely on people being able to access information online.

LB Hounslow has now started to address broadband access to council housing. Community Fibre, in partnership with Hounslow Council, has installed hundreds of fibre broadband lines to homes on South Road and Cottington Road in Feltham and work is about to begin on further Council homes on Hampton Road East, Oxford Court, Swift Road, The Hollands, New Chapel Square, and Midsummer Avenue.

The new cabling brings fibre optic cables directly into people’s homes rather than to cabinets on the street. This eliminates the need for old copper cables running from the street into people’s homes to achieve the full speed potential of fibre broadband.

Councillor Pritam Grewal, cabinet member for customer services and corporate performance, said:

“Our partnership with the broadband providers will not only provide the best broadband for residents in the borough’s Council homes, the investment in infrastructure it brings will also unlock the potential to provide full-fibre broadband right across the borough.

“The deals we’ve struck also mean that we will have a supply of free broadband connections to provide free access to some of our poorest and most vulnerable residents.

“Our vision is a borough where no-one is excluded from online services, work and social opportunities simply because they don’t have access to a reliable broadband connection and a suitable device.”

Images above: Cllr Ron Mushisho and Cllr Gerald McGregor outside Christ Church on Turnham Green, a laptop pick up point at Richmond Rugby club

Closing the digital divide

Improving broadband connections in the borough to allow for faster internet connections is another step closer to closing the borough’s digital divide.

During lockdown, there were many children who missed out on lessons because they didn’t have access to a computer to use for remote learning, let alone super-fast broadband. Turnham Green ward councillor Ron Mushiso arranged a collection point outside Christ Church on Turnham Green, where people could drop off an old, unused laptop or tablet so it can be wiped and reused by a child who needed it.

The council also distributed electronic devices, supplied by the Department for Education, to distribute to children in need. But they say there is still a shortfall of equipment both locally and nationally. The council committed to providing 750 laptops, in addition to the laptops already distributed, to help address the shortfall, as well as 150 internet connections to children during lockdown.

Head Teacher of Chiswick School, Laura Ellener, gave a a presentation at the Chiswick Area Forum in earlier in 2021 about how the school had coped during the pandemic. She said teachers had driven around Hounslow delivering equipment and food boxes to over 300 of their students. At Chiswick School 40% of pupils are considered officially to be ‘disadvantaged’.

Image above: LB Hounslow’s website

Surge in online Council services

Last year saw a 30% uptick in people accessing the Council’s services online, with a massive 320,000 online transactions being completed.

Transactions included people accessing community hub support during lockdown, filling in the Council’s shielding questionnaire, waste container requests, housing register applications, reporting statutory nuisances, and more.

Councillor Grewal said:

“With the surge in people accessing our services online, it’s crucial that we commit to making these services as easy-to-use as sending an email because these are services that people are using daily.

“As a Council we’re committed to some new Customer Experience principles to design our services from the point of view of the residents who will be using them, making services consistent and reliable across the board.”

To read more about Hounslow Council’s Digital Strategy visit hounslow.digital.

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