BT removes mobile data charges for Oak National Academy as internet companies forced to help with schooling during lockdown

BT will remove mobile data charges for an online learning hub as internet companies are forced to work to stop unequal access to the internet.

It is just the latest measure intended to ease problems associated with coronavirus lockdowns, schools shutting and education moving largely to the internet.

Internet companies are traditionally discouraged from offering preferential treatment to certain websites, under the principle of net neutrality.

But since the most recent lockdown forced much schooling to go online, and concerns emerged that the changes could leave poorer students unable to access materials, a number of internet companies have made certain websites or services exempt from quotas.

The move will mean customers on EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile will have free, unlimited access to the Oak National Academy and its educational content.

Last week, BT confirmed it was working with the BBC to remove data charges for accessing BBC Bitesize content in response to calls for internet providers to do more to help support school children and their families who have been forced into remote learning by lockdown measures.

Oak National Academy is a UK Government-backed virtual school which was launched during lockdown last year as a learning hub for teachers and pupils.

Marc Allera, chief executive of the BT Group’s consumer division, said the telecoms giant was asking Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations to each nominate an online resource the company would look to zero-rate.

“We’re rapidly boosting our ‘Lockdown Learning’ support scheme by zero-rating access to BBC Bitesize and now Oak National Academy for all our mobile customers,” he said.

“Our inclusive support package means families that need it most can get help to keep learning, with unlimited data, free access to our five million WiFi hotspots and now free access to the two most popular educational resources.

“And to make sure that we are keeping children across the whole of the UK connected, we’re also asking ministers in Wales, Scotland and NI to work with us on offering unlimited data for eligible customers, as well as potential zero-rating of other regionalised educational resources.”

In the wake of lockdown and the majority of pupils moving to remote learning, tech companies have been urged to do more to support disadvantaged families who lack access to a reliable internet connection or devices on which children can study.

In response, the Department for Education (DfE) has launched a scheme to provide laptops and tablets to pupils in need, while network operators have moved to offer free mobile data to those who need it.

BT said its zero-rating of educational content would continue until schools reopen across the UK.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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