Poor Broadband Hinders Education Of 1.2 Million Children

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Digital poverty line. Poor broadband line speeds see 1.2 million children falling behind, survey finds

Children’s education is being put at risk due to slow broadband line speeds, research from uSwitch.com has suggested.

The problem is espically bad for those children in rural areas, due to the fact that half of homework now handed out to kids, is done online.

This is the stark conclusion in new research from uSwitch.com, the price comparison and switching service.

Digital poverty

It surveyed 1,000 UK parents of children aged 5-18, the vast majority of whom are parents of children who do homework, to find out more about the digital poverty line.

One in seven (15 percent) parents (to the equivalent of around 1.2 million children) think slow internet speeds are negatively impacting their child’s education.

They reported that half of homework is now reliant on decent internet speeds – yet over a third (36 percent) of parents say their children have experienced internet problems while doing homework.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, it is parents in the rural broadband slow lane that suffer the most from slower speeds, and are the least likely to report their children are falling behind.

But even where broadband line speeds are decent, a quarter of parents believe ‘busier’ peak times for internet usage (such as the evening) is impacting their child’s ability to do homework.

The survey found that seven in 10 (69 percent) parents believe the internet is essential to their child’s education.

As a result, uSwitch.com says it is encouraging the Government and industry to help ensure households are bought along on the journey to faster, more reliable broadband services.

“The fact that poor broadband connectivity at home could be having a material impact on our children’s learning is deeply worrying,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com.

“For some time now, teachers have been warning of a nationwide risk that children could fall behind if broadband speeds are not up to par,” Neudegg said. “Our data shows that for some 36 percent of parents, they believe this has already impacted their child’s ability to study at home.”

“The government has recently announced a voucher scheme for SMEs that is designed to help with the cost of connecting to ‘full fibre’ broadband,” he added. “It’s high time attention was turned to helping families get onto better suited, more reliable broadband services.”

USO commitment

To be fair the government has been aggressively working on the problem for a while now.

Earlier this week for example the government set 2020 as the deadline by which anyone will have the legal right to an affordable 10 Mbps broadband connection.

The right is part of the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which is being implemented under last year’s Digital Economy Act.

“Accessing the internet is a necessity not a luxury,” said digital minister Margot James at the time. “We’re now putting high speed broadband on a similar footing as other essential services like water and phone lines.”

The USO is to be funded by industry, and not government as previously proposed. Ofcom is to establish and oversee an industry fund to support USO delivery, and has estimated the plan could cost up to £1.1 billion.

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