Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation have joined forces to launch the National Databank – to tackle data poverty

With more than seven million people across the UK unable to access mobile data or broadband at home1, Virgin Media O2 has partnered with the Good Things Foundation to launch the first-ever National Databank.

The launch is a direct response to the need for mobile networks to find a long-term solution to the data poverty crisis at a national level – by creating a collaborative, community-led platform that provides free mobile data to those who need it.

A central hub

The National Databank, which will be open to all mobile operators, will provide free data for community groups to distribute across the UK, including the most digitally deprived areas.

The platform has been created by Virgin Media O2, working closely with Good Things Foundation and other digital inclusion experts (including Community Organisers, Operation Wifi, Hubbub and Nominet) – and has been gifted to Good Things Foundation to run through our network of Online Centres. The National Databank provides, for the first time, a central hub where community groups can access free ‘data voucher codes’ and SIM cards for people who need them. Those accessing free data will also be offered additional support – including digital skills training and signposting to other essential services.

Founding member Virgin Media O2 will donate £12.5m worth of O2 connectivity (7.5 million GB of data) to the National Databank by the end of 2023. This is enough to provide 319 million hours of internet use to over 200,000 people in need, nationwide. Virgin Media O2 has also donated £500,000 to Good Things Foundation to cover the operational costs of running the Databank.

Ahead of a nationwide rollout in November, an initial three-month pilot with 10 community organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is now underway. The pilot will help test and improve the online platform built by Virgin Media O2’s innovation team, The Lab.

Supporting communities

As a growing number of households struggle to afford data, Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation are now calling on other mobile networks to join the National Databank, helping scale the reach and impact of the platform as a long-term, sustainable solution to tackle data poverty. Working together, the industry has the power to provide connectivity to millions of digitally excluded people and families across the UK.

A recent report by Local Trust found that community-led action has played a vital role in reaching those experiencing data poverty throughout the pandemic. As a next step, the report identified the need to develop inclusive solutions at scale – including data sharing and pooling through schemes like a national data bank.

Lutz Schüler, Chief Executive Officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “The pandemic has escalated the UK’s data poverty crisis like never before – and with many millions of people facing digital exclusion, now is the time to come together and close the gap on digital inequality.

“Our industry has done remarkable things in recent months to keep customers connected when they needed it most, but it can’t stop there. By establishing the first ever National Databank with Good Things Foundation, coupled with a £12.5m data pledge, we want to build a lasting legacy from the pandemic so we’re now asking our colleagues in the mobile industry to join us and help end data poverty for good.”

Helen Milner OBE, Group Chief Executive, Good Things Foundation, said: “Having sufficient data in our increasingly digital society is not a nice to have, it’s an absolute essential. If you’re not online you can’t save money on products and services, help your children to participate in home-learning, and apply for jobs.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with Virgin Media O2 to launch the National Databank, which can be thought of as a ‘food bank for data’. Now is the time for us to come together to address the issue of data poverty in the UK once and for all.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman, said: “I welcome Virgin Media O2’s significant investment in the National Databank. This is a perfect example of industry innovation making a huge difference to people’s lives, and will mean more practical help for those on low incomes to get online and access the endless benefits of digital connectivity.”

The launch of the National Databank follows a series of moves from Virgin Media O2 to support vulnerable customers during the COVID-19 pandemic – from free mobile data, devices and TV channels, to permanently zero-rating NHS and education websites. Last autumn – in the height of the second wave – Virgin Media launched its Essential Broadband service for customers who are struggling financially and receiving Universal Credit. The company’s Help for Home Learners initiative and O2’s Community Calling programme have respectively provided data and devices to those in need at a crucial time.

[1] Estimated figures based on the latest adult population figures from the Office for National Statistics (2019) and recent research into the UK’s data divide by the Ada Lovelace Institute (March 2021).

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