With national lockdown rules now firmly in place for the third time, most of us once again will rely on our broadband to connect us with friends and family and to continue working from home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic where we can — not to mention keeping the kids entertained with streaming and online gaming.
As a result, most of the UK’s major internet service providers (ISPs) have agreed to take new measures to help support their customers and the wider community as a whole during this tough period.
Commitments from most major providers
Openreach has paused in-home engineer visits and delayed installations for connections faster than 30Mbps until the 1st March. However, the network provider — who supplies the national broadband network for BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet, Vodafone and many others — has committed to performing as many installations as possible from outside the home, and will still be running in-home engineer visits for vulnerable customers.
UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has also worked with providers to establish a number of measures to help children access their online classes while learning from home:
- Data caps removed from all major UK broadband providers' packages for free unlimited use
- Special affordable 'essential' tariffs run by a number of providers for vulnerable customers and those on low incomes
- For those without a broadband connection, mobile data caps have been lifted to allow unlimited access to the internet on mobile devices
Providers have also stated that they are committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bills as a result of COVID-19 and giving them the support they need.
This ensures that vulnerable customers and those that are shielding and self-isolating can use fixed broadband and landline services, or have easy access to alternative methods of communication where needed.
In addition to the above, many providers are making their own moves to help customers during this difficult time.
Spring 2020 lockdown announcements*Please note: audio guide was published during the Spring 2020 lockdown*
Like all the major providers, BT has removed any caps on broadband usage for customers, allowing them to use unlimited data when staying at home.
In order to help those currently working or learning from home, BT is offering a free mobile broadband mini-hub to Halo customers whose connection keeps dropping out.
If you happen to be subscribed to the provider's Halo service and can't rely on your broadband to give you reliable access to the internet, this complimentary Wi-Fi hub (that uses EE's mobile data signal) should keep you connected throughout the day.
Halo costs an extra £3 per month, but with it you'll get extra perks from BT like more attentive customer support, BT's Keep Connected Promise, no end of contract price rises and double mobile data if you're subscribed to its phone network.
However, you don't have to be a Halo customer to benefit from every one of BT's new lockdown donations. To make sure every child can access school online, BT is offering Wi-Fi vouchers to families who are struggling financially, so they can access one of the five million BT Wi-Fi hotspots across the country for free.
It's also taking data charges off of any time spent on the BBC Bitesize website while children learn from home, so they can enjoy unlimited time using its educational resources without the risk of racking up mobile data prices.
Virgin Media is already serving its customers with some of the fastest broadband speeds in the country, but it’s also adding some extras to help parents and those working from home cope with the recent changes.
Since the third national lockdown, Virgin Media has announced a number of measures in an effort to keep its customers connected and entertained while staying at home.
The broadband and TV provider has announced it'll be donating 1,500 laptops to disadvantaged children who don't have access to the right equipment to learn from home during the lockdown. Each device will come with a free 4G mobile dongle containing 25GB of mobile data per month on an initial two-month plan.
Other initiatives from Virgin Media include:
- Free access to a number of pay-TV channels including Animal Planet HD, Eurosport 1 and Sky History HD for customers on Mixit TV and Player bundles
- Free mobile data for children to use Oak National Academy online tutoring while schools are shut
- 20GB additional mobile data for low-income families to get their children online for school (applied for via the Department of Education)
- Free data, minutes and texts for vulnerable mobile customers
Virgin Media also continues to offer its Essential broadband package as a low-cost, hassle-free option for households living off Universal Credit.
The provider is also offering a significant broadband speed boost and a number of mobile upgrades to NHS staff to help ease some of the pressure they're facing during the pandemic.
Virgin Media broadband installation
At time of writing, Virgin Media is still continuing to install its services to new customers, with additional precautions in place to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
There are also self-install Quickstart packs that don’t require an outside engineer to come to your home in order to get you set up with cable broadband
Find out more in our guide to broadband installations during the coronavirus.
Sky Q customers are able to add on additional streaming services that can be accessed directly through the Sky Q box. These include Netflix, Disney+ and YouTube Kids, however there will be an additional charge to access this content.
2021 national lockdown
To make sure customers with accessibility issues receive the help they need during lockdown, TalkTalk will prioritise phone lines for customers who need accessibility support, with a dedicated UK tech team on hand to help with connection and account issues 7 days a week from 9am to 7pm weekdays and 9am to 6pm weekends.
The provider has also issues guidance to its customers on noticing scam emails and websites using COVID-19 to lure people into their bidding. See its blog post on avoiding scammers for more information. Its blog contains a number of useful articles regarding the pandemic and living in lockdown, including tips for working from home and a Wi-Fi calling guide.
Vodafone is offering six months' free broadband for small businesses in order to help them through the struggle COVID-19 has caused for their operations. The offer is available to new small business customers who take out a 24-month broadband package and existing customers who are due an upgrade. The offer lasts until 30th April.
While its stores remain closed in accordance with the lockdown, customers with technical issues can book a free 30-minute appointment with a Vodafone Tech Team expert either through phone, web chat or video call.
Free and discounted online learning tools
Vodafone has also made the following online education platforms available to its customers through its VeryMe Rewards scheme on the My Vodafone app: SchoolOnline, Azoomee, MarcoPolo World School and New Skills Academy.
These online resources provide educational material for primary school, KS2 and GCSE pupils, and New Skills Academy is an adult learning site for those in lockdown looking to learn a new pastime.
- Azoomee: Three months free — Educational videos, games and TV shows for primary school children - MarcoPolo World School: 60 day free trial — Video lessons and interactive learning games for kids aged three to seven - SchoolOnline: 33% off — KS2 and GCSE learning materials - New Skills Academy: 76% off — Adult learning courses
In response to the latest national lockdown, full fibre provider Hyperoptic is offering a superfast broadband connection to disadvantaged families with school-age children completely free of charge until the end of the 2021 summer school term.
Adding to the national effort to help children learn from home while schools are shut — 880,000 of which only have access to a mobile data connection according to Ofcom — Hyperoptic will give local authority tenants without a reliable broadband connection a free 50Mbps fixed line if their household is covered by its network.
37 local authorities are at least partially covered by Hyperoptic's infrastructure, and the provider plans to connect at least 2,500 households by the end of February. The free connection comes with a complimentary Wi-Fi router and no installation cost.
To check if you're eligible, first contact your local authority. If you're able to get this connection they will provide you with a promo code, which you can then share with Hyperoptic by calling them on 0333 332 1111. They'll book a convenient time and date for your installation, where an engineer will make a COVID-safe visit to your home to set it all up.
Avoid using call centres
Many of the major broadband providers have limited capacity for the call centres, and are prioritising helping vulnerable customers and those without access to telephone and internet services. Please avoid using call centres as much as possible to help those customers who need it most.