Mobile network Three UK will provide free unlimited data to disadvantaged children in England after schools shut during lockdown, the latest operator to try to prevent children from falling behind during the pandemic.
Many broadband operators, including market leader BT, have removed data caps, and mobile operators have provided data packages for children in households that lack broadband.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer had called on operators to do more on data to help those children who have to rely on mobile phones for online learning.
“Everybody needs to try and make this work and that includes the companies that can take away the charging for data, it’s a serious situation,” he told BBC radio.
Three, which is owned by CK Hutchison, said schools could request free, additional data through the Department for Education’s Get Help with Technology programme.
The unlimited data will be applied until the end of the school year in July, it said.
“Three UK wants to support those families that need access to connectivity to support their child’s learning needs during the pandemic,” said chief commercial officer Elaine Carey.
Keir Starmer has thanked Three for its move.
“This morning I said we need to ensure kids can learn from home and pointed out data costs are a huge problem,” Sir Keir tweeted.
“Well done @ThreeUK – exactly the sort of national effort we need right now.”
A number of operators, including Three and BT, were already offering packages of mobile data in the DfE’s scheme.
BT, for example, said it was giving 20GB of free data a month to disadvantaged families.
“The data is accessed through children’s schools, and will allow pupils to access whichever educational resource that their school subscribes to help make sure no-one is left behind while face-to-face teaching is paused,” a spokesman said.
Vodafone has offered 350,000 SIM cards that provide 30GB of data to schools and colleges for disadvantaged students, and it said it would keep working with th
e government to help.
Virgin Media launched an affordable service for anyone on universal credit in autumn – offering broadband from £15 a month.
The Department for Education said last month it would supply more than 1 million devices to schools, colleges and councils.
So far 560,000 laptops have been made available to students since the start of the pandemic and 100,000 more are coming.