The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus many of the UK’s inequalities, some with devastating consequences. As a technology company – and one committed to ensuring everyone benefits from the digitalisation of our society – a key area that has concerned Nominet during these months is the perennial issue of digital exclusion.
Almost two million households don’t have access to the internet, with tens of millions relying on ‘pay-as-you-go’ solutions to get online. When lockdown forced us into our homes, many of those living in ‘digital poverty’ faced challenges securing food, medicines or up-to-date medical information. Schools were also alarmed, as the lack of access to digital devices and connectivity made home-schooling an impossibility for an estimated 700,000 children.
Through our involvement in an initiative called DevicesDotNow, which was rapidly launched when the UK’s national lockdown was announced in March, we wanted to play our part in addressing this issue of digital exclusion. The aim was to procure new devices and internet connectivity solutions to help those most in need. By rallying the support of large organisations, we were able to secure over 11,000 devices.
For the thousands that DevicesDotNow were able to support, it would have been transformative, but it’s a mere drop in the ocean when we consider the scale of the challenge. Fortunately, we weren’t the only people mobilising. Since March we have witnessed a surge in community groups, voluntary organisations and schools taking it upon themselves to collect unused devices in their local area to be restored and handed out to those struggling. It was an amazing effort but understandably challenging; how to identify the people who need help, how to reboot the devices safely and what about connectivity? This showed us what next step was needed to help maintain this incredible national effort and to ensure the young and the vulnerable are not left without.
And here is the product of the lessons we have learnt: REBOOT by Nominet. This fantastic online platform offers essential advice and support for those local groups eager to re-purpose devices in their area and, hopefully, to smooth the path for those who follow in their footsteps and recycle, reboot, rehome and reuse forgotten devices.
First, crucially, the site provides a clear ‘how to’ guide on the steps to make this all happen. There is also a collection of case studies to demonstrate what challenges others have faced and how they overcame them. Such personal stories are not only a practical way to help, they are also inspirational, serving as welcome motivation to those who are finding their way hampered by some of the hurdles other groups faced when first embarking on this scheme.
Secondly, the REBOOT platform acts as a ‘connector’, with a search functionality to enable people to locate others in their local area doing similar activity – or be inspired to start their own mission if they find no one already doing so. Finally, we hope REBOOT will help bring people from across the country together in a digital space to share ideas and thoughts, advice or difficulties, and feel a sense of solidarity and support with one another in their incredible efforts to reduce the digital exclusion in their local area.
It’s been heartening to see such proliferation of local organisations taking it upon themselves to get unused digital devices into the hands of those in need in their communities and towns. We are proud to be able to help support them in this work. We hope REBOOT will be a dynamic platform, evolving with the changing needs and experiences of those working to turn the tide on digital exclusion by re-using just a portion of the estimated 40 million digital devices that are gathering dust in peoples’ homes. Imagine; if we accessed less than 5% of those forgotten pieces of equipment, we could get digital connectivity into every single household currently going without.
The potential is huge, and I sincerely hope that REBOOT will be a small but crucial step towards ending the ‘digital poverty’ that is leaving too many people in our societies shut out of the digital world being built around them.