UK mobile operators make data free for schoolchildren

BT, EE, Three and Vodafone will work with the government on data allowances

A smartphone on a notepad with Vodafone data

All of the UK's major mobile operators have offered free data and unlimited broadband for children studying at home during the third national lockdown.

BT, Three and Vodafone have all said they will work with the government to help disadvantaged children that could fall behind in school without access to the internet, according to the BBC

Around 9% of UK children are thought to have no access to a laptop, desktop or tablet according to Ofcom figures, with more than 880,000 living in a home with only a mobile internet connection. 

Vodafone has offered 350,000 SIM cards with 30GB of data to schools and colleges to handout to disadvantaged students, and BT is already said to be working with the Department of Education (DfE) to get extra mobile data to children which can be accessed through schools. 

Three has also announced that it is working with the DfE to provide free data to children.

The announcement was welcomed by the leader of the Labour party Keir Starmer who tweeted: "This morning I said we need to ensure kids can learn from home and pointed out data costs are a huge problem. Well done @ThreeUK - exactly the sort of national effort we need right now." 

While there has been some action on data and broadband allowances, getting the devices needed to access it has somewhat stalled. On Tuesday, Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh called on the prime minister to supply laptops and devices to the 9% of children that need them. 

There have been reports that the government has failed to deliver on promises to supply disadvantaged children with laptops. The DfE drew criticism on Tuesday for posting a photo on Instagram of 35,000 laptops and tablets that are set to reach schools this week. 

"It beggars belief that the government would celebrate distributing devices almost a year after schools first closed and to just a fraction of the pupils who need them," McDonagh commented according to The Guardian.

One provider that hasn't announced plans to work with the government on this is O2. The firm has been more proactive on the matter, however, announcing plans in October to provide 10,000 devices and 12 months of free data via the children's charity Hubbub. 

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