Consumers' digital connectivity challenges throughout the pandemic and beyond

23 August 2021

The Panel has long been convinced that digital connectivity should be viewed as an essential service – particularly in the context of the pandemic, when unprecedented restrictions on people’s ability to mix in person have led to it playing an even greater role in people’s lives. 

This led the Panel to commission research to understand the barriers to digital connectivity, the problems that connectivity is able to solve, and the impacts that insufficient connectivity can have.

Our objectives were to understand:

  • What have been the digital connectivity experiences of UK consumers, citizens and microbusinesses during the pandemic?
  • Are there particular people/groups who have not been able to make full use of digital connectivity?
  • What have the impacts been of lacking sufficient access to digital connectivity or the skills to use it?
  • Moving forward, what do people expect their digital connectivity needs to be?

Key insights

  • People experienced the newly expanded role of the internet in their lives in very different ways – some considered it a ‘lifeline’, while for others it added to the financial and emotional toll of the pandemic.
  • Common digital connectivity problems included connection reliability or speed, lack of digital skills, lack of equipment, affordability and challenges caused by personal circumstances like low literacy.
  • Some barriers people faced were caused by structural impediments such as a lack of ability to upgrade their internet connection, lack of an adequate response from communication providers to connection problems or poor usability of digital government services.
  • Insufficient connectivity caused impacts such as an inability to access essential products and services, ability to make a living, negative health outcomes, damage to children’s educational attainment and ability to maintain social connections.
  • But some people experienced important advantages from being able to be online during the pandemic – maintaining some semblance of normal life by continuing work, schooling, transactions and social interactions.
  • There is a group of people with ‘low digital resilience’. This means that they are much less able to make full use of online connectivity. It goes beyond those traditionally considered ‘digitally excluded’ and takes in those who lack support from family, workplace, school or communication provider.
  • Increased home working is the main digital connectivity need that people expect to continue beyond the pandemic, linked with a requirement for reliable connections, minimum line speeds and better troubleshooting support.

We've outlined a number of practical steps that policymakers can take to further protect and support consumers, citizens and micro-businesses in a digital world.

  • Establish minimum digital access in law  
  • Tighten standards to protect people online
  • Better usability of government online services
  • Extend automatic compensation schemes
  • Provide digital training to help develop citizens’ online skills and confidence
  • Alternative channels of support for government and public services must remain readily available

To read our full findings and recommendations, please access our cover report below: 

Digital connectivity - getting up to speed while staying at home (Communications Consumer Panel)

Adroddiad ar gysylltedd digidol yn ystod pandemig DU (Panel Defnyddwyr Cyfathrebiadau)

 

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