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Broadband and Wi-Fi rights in the wake of the pandemic

by LLB Tech Reporter
22nd Oct 20 8:36 am

Millions of people across the UK have had to shift to remote working during the pandemic, and as many areas return to tighter lockdown restrictions, this way of working looks set to stay. The UK’s broadband infrastructure is ageing, and only 10% of UK homes can access full-fibre connections, meaning many businesses, and workers, are struggling with slow internet connections that hamper their productivity.

Working from home can result in an increased internet bill- but who picks up the tab? And if a home internet connection isn’t up to speed, what rights and responsibilities do workers and employers have to fix it?

The UK’s internet infrastructure

The majority of the UK’s internet infrastructure is comprised of older copper wire connections that are struggling in places to withstand the pressure of millions of people logging in from home. High-speed fibre broadband provides fast, reliable speeds, but 90% of homes cannot access this. Even though mobile broadband is being increasingly used to access remote-working tools like video-calling platforms and workplace communication tools, 4G is highly dependent on where you live.

While the Government has committed to the roll-out of full-fibre broadband and investment in

critical national infrastructure, many are concerned this technology will be deployed too late, and that such pledges have not so far been backed up by action. This is why PowWowNow has launched its Connecting the UK campaign, asking the Government to consider expediting the rollout of full-fibre broadband to ensure the economy can recover from the impact of Covid-19.

What are my rights around broadband?

Every home and business has the right to request a download speed of 10 Mbit/s and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s under the Universal Service Obligation. Those struggling with speeds less than this can therefore request to get their connection updated. However, if this update will cost more than £3,400 to connect your home or business, you will need to pay the excess cost.

When it comes to working from home, there are no explicit rules about whether it should be the employer or the employee who foots the bill. Most employers do not have any legal obligation to pay for internet for workers outside of the workplace, but for some workplaces, there may be a certain amount of provision in the employment agreement setting out what happens if an employee incurs costs associated with working from home.

It becomes difficult, however, when it’s a bill the worker is already otherwise paying- which is often the case with Wi-Fi bills. In many scenarios, this makes it harder to prove there were additional costs that the employer needs to pick up. Options to resolve this can include open dialogue with employers to discuss what, if any, reimbursements could be made. During the pandemic, many companies have moved to offer to pay for employees’ internet bills, providing work-from-home allowances for additional equipment needed, for example.

What more needs to be done?

Employers need to do more to ensure that workers understand their Wi-Fi rights, and are able to request an upgrade if needed. As well as that, business leaders should make sure they are creating a positive workplace environment in which employees feel comfortable and able to safely raise questions and concerns they may have about their internet connection or usage. An open, transparent dialogue needs to take place between employers and employees to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to this significant transition away towards long-term remote working.

While some businesses may be in a position to contribute to their workers’ broadband payments, this won’t be the same for every company. However, there are other ways that workers can and should be supported at this time- such as by ensuring best practice when remote working so that every employee is provided with the appropriate tools and technology to get their job done effectively.

Ultimately, businesses and workers must call on the Government to commit to ensuring that 100% of the nation has accessibility to full-fibre ultrafast broadband so that rural areas and ‘not-spots’ are not forgotten about. Such infrastructure is the technology of the future and will be crucial if businesses are to effectively transition to remote working and move towards a more productive future.

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