A nationwide campaign to get the most vulnerable and digitally disconnected people access to mobile technology has been announced by O2.
The mobile operator is working with charity Hubbub to donate 10,000 mobile devices and a year’s free connectivity to digitally excluded people in areas facing stricter lockdown restrictions.
The Community Calling scheme will first be deployed in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark, areas with high levels of inequality and exclusion, O2 said.
This will then be followed by a national rollout in Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Swansea, with the full rollout expected to be completed by spring next year.
The public is being encouraged to donate unused or unwanted smartphones for redistribution, or by choosing to donate the cost of one month’s data, both of which can be done through Hubbub’s website.
O2 said the scheme would target cities either at risk of a Tier 3 coronavirus lockdown in an effort to counter the isolation which can accompany such measures.
Alongside the donated devices, the mobile operator confirmed it would provide 12 months of free connectivity to recipients, including unlimited minutes and texts as well as 6GB of data a month for the full year.
The scheme has received backing from the Government, with the minister for digital infrastructure, Matt Warman, praising the initiative.
“Digital connectivity has been a lifeline for many of us during the pandemic and I welcome O2’s efforts to get more vulnerable people online,” he said.
“The government brokered an unprecedented deal with mobile operators to offer extra support to those struggling to pay their bills and I am pleased to see O2 is continuing to do whatever it can to help those affected by the virus.”
The creation of the scheme follows a trial in Southwark earlier this year, where 500 devices were distributed to residents.
Mark Evans, O2 chief executive, said: “Connectivity has been vital to keeping the country running during the pandemic, but if you’re unable to get online you’re likely to miss out on a lot of support.
“We’ve already seen the positive impact Community Calling has had on vulnerable people in Southwark, so we’re pleased to announce this expansion and tackle digital exclusion elsewhere across the country. We’re determined to support the people who need it most.”
Hubbub co-founder and director Gavin Ellis also called on businesses to get involved in the scheme by organising bulk device donations or providing collection boxes.
“It’s been heart-warming to see the positive impact receiving a smartphone through the Community Calling project has already had on so many people’s lives.
“Being connected to loved ones and accessing essential services is easily taken for granted, but is still not a reality for too many people. We’re looking forward to working with O2 to expand Community Calling to get more people connected and prevent unnecessary electrical waste.
“We’re calling on individuals and businesses with spare smartphones to donate them to somebody who needs a device to stay connected at this difficult time.”