Internet companies are dropping broadband data caps in an attempt to keep people connected through the coronavirus pandemic.
A deal struck between the government and internet companies will see them give users unlimited data allowance on their current services and offer new rates on mobile and landline packages.
The measures come as many people are being forced to work and study from home in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus, and vulnerable people rely on their internet connections for shopping and communications through the lockdown.
They are among a range of immediately effective measures which have been signed up to by major internet service and mobile providers including BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM.
The companies have pledged that anyone who is struggling to pay their bill due to the pandemic will be treated fairly and appropriately supported, the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Department said.
The firms have also agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported.
These could put users in line for packages featuring data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
Vulnerable customers or those who are self-isolating, who are faced with priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines which cannot be carried out, should be given alternative methods of communication wherever possible, the companies said.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time.
“It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home.”
Watchdog Ofcom’s chief executive Melanie Dawes said: “We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment.
“So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important.”
Executives from the firms said there has never been a more important period for people to stay connected, adding that during the current uncertainty nobody should have to worry about how to keep in touch with friends and loved ones.
Their companies would work tirelessly to keep the country connected, they said.
Marc Allera, chief executive of BT’s Consumer division, said: “During this national and global crisis, our priorities are the safety of our colleagues and ensuring that our customers, particularly those that are vulnerable, stay connected.”
Openreach chief executive Clive Selley said: “Thankfully a large amount of the work we do – including fixing faults, adding capacity and building faster, more reliable full fibre networks – can be completed outside, so you’ll still see Openreach engineers working to maintain service across the UK.”
Additional reporting by agencies