Digital Housing Hub - #digihousing

where social housing providers meet to help their residents embrace the web

What are your views on social landlords investing in broadband infrastructure and conectivity (clouds, fibreoptics etc) for residents homes (as opposed to in communal areas/ hubs)? I've attended a few talks where this has come up lately, and left with the impression that those who have gone down that route in the past are now deciding to invest their resources elsewhere (skills/ capacity building etc).

With gloomy predictions that the government will fail to hit their 'braodband for all'- target by 2015, and that rural areas will be particularly lacking in decent access- is there still a role for social housing providers in investing in infrastructure & connectivity?

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Good morning!
I noticed your post and wondered if you could let me know where you read or learnt that some providers have moved away from infrastructure. The reason I ask, is that we are looking at implementing WiFi broadband, which is an expensive investment. I'd like to learn from others mistakes before making any of my own!
Thanks for your help, in anticipation!
Kindest regards,

Philip (Trident Housing)

In my opinion ...... there are a lot of providors out there selling services which they tag on to the digital inclusion debate.

I subdivide the debate into three areas,

Firstly its my view that the provision of apps/web sites etc is not digital inclusion, I refer to it as digital provision

Secondly with have a whole debate around the positioning of HA's in the supply chain between the ISP and the end customer (our tenants)

Thirdly we have digital inclusion which I see as a hearts and minds process encouraging our tenants to take up the options available to get them on line.

 

Focussing on the second area, and in response to your enquiry, as HA's we could

Leave it up to market forces - the cheapest pay as you go from Tescos is an android smartphone, this could prove a game changer, but hasnt yet.......

Enter a trading relationship with an ISP wherein they sell to us at discounted rates and well on sell to our customers - in which case we take the financial risk but dont have the responsibility of managing the service ourselves. Many of these ISP's would not sell direct to many of our tenants as they do not have bank accounts or suitable credit history.

Enter into a relationship with a third party whereby they run and manage a network on our behalf - again we take the financial risk

Or we could actually set up as an ISP in our own right again we take the financial risk and in this case we would have to establish the teams to run and mange the network as well as setting up the technology. However we are actively looking at what we could do in this area.

Where you sit depends I suppose on the attitude of the individual HA and how risk averse they are.

Personally I remain to be convinced that adding to our service charges would be a sensible thing to do at the current time - especially with universal credit threatening a certain amount of mayhem across the sector.

The single argument that holds most credibility for me is that - as an HA we have 60% internet access amongst our general needs tenants, if we were to offer low(ish) cost broadband to our tenants I would expect the overwhelming majority of those 60% to want to come over to our service as it would be cheaper than the service they are currently using, I would expect a small proportion of those without internet to take advantage of the offer, but not many. I would argue that the reasons that people are not online is not broadly because of cost as it can be easily demonstrated that people are better off with online access - its a hearts and minds issue and direct provision of services does not attend to that issue.

In terms of the rural agenda - the direct provision of services makes perfect sense if you have high density of tenants on a small geographic area but we would face the same challenges as any ISP in reaching the smaller population centres. Totally agree - I have no expectation that the governments targets of fibre to every village will be met.

As an HA we are fairly narrowly distributed, most of our properties are within the city so it could work for us. Where I believe direct provision has been successful has been in tower blocks or where there is no commercial competition and where the geography suits.

No clear answer, no magic wand, I am not convinced that we should become ISP's, not convinced that many of us have the staff resources or skills to become ISP's.

 

Not sure how helpful this is - its a tricky debate!

 

Regards

 

Andrew 

 

 

 

Thanks for the contribution! :)

Thanks for this Andrew but i am a bit confused.  I am working on a bid to look at getting wireless access to a Council estate of around a 1000 properties in a London borough.  I was told wireless connection would be cheap, but the issue would be the "hearts and minds" issue you identified.

Anecdotally we are being told people are choosing not to pay their internet connections for obvious reasons.

I am trying to get money to undertake research to see what is going on with the expected outcome of the landlord taking out a contract and passing on the cost etc. in service charges.

Are you indicating your research shows that there are no cheaper options than the standard providers?

 

thanks for you help

 

Mary

Different commercial service providors offer different packages and the headline will be "BROADBAND ONLY £2.50 A MONTH" then in very small type "requires line rental at £14 a month" so thats not £2.50 - thats £16.50!! Typical cost from a commercial providor is around the £15 to £20 mark, anything less than £15 is quite cheap. We also have to consider that the service providor won't actually trade direct with our tenants as they dont have bank accounts or a decent credit history

The cost of the DIY infrastructure is likely to be relatively low but it will only work in practical terms if the geography is right (could work on a single estate for example). We also are looking at LTE/wifi options for our geography, however if you put the infrastructure in place someone has to support it, probably 24x7, and this incurs cost. Unless of course you outsource it all to a service providor, then we are back to a similar scenario as above....

And then we come to the killer argument - if the tenant doesnt understand or see the need to get internet access - they wont go for it - even if we bulk purchase and sell on at £10 month all inclusive.

If you want to chat this through email me and I'll send you my full contact details.

andrew.harris@crosskeyshomes.co.uk

 

Regards

 

Andrew

Many thanks Andrew.  I am going to talk to a few more people and see what political support there is for "doing something" ;if i get money to do some research with tenants. 

 

I will let everyone know the outcome.  I am a bit worried that a bit like appple pie and motherhood everyone thinks it is a good idea as long as they don't have to manage or pay for it.

Mary

Thanks Andrew- really appreciate your input. Our in-house research (though limitied) concurs with your points above re hearts and minds. The 'easy converts' have been converted, those who are not yet connected are unlikely to do so on the back of a marginally (to be realistic!) substidised connection.

 

Hi Mary

I think, from the little research I've done on it, you can make internet cheaper by sharing a wifi connection, though the connetion may tend to be a little slower as a result (though may still be well witihn acceptable speeds for 99% of what want to do).

 

I know one of the HAs at the meet-up was talking about them having put in internet for residents "free" (e.g. withi the service) at a basic level with the aim of up-selling a better connection, but I think this was a. an income generating housing scheme not social housing and b. I think was a wried connection not wireless.

 

To me, a cheaper connection is not going to be the tipping point, but it is really helpful in tackling one objection, and more people may take a punt when they donn't feel they are signing up an expensive commitment - of course the other related issue is a contractual lock-in (and associated credit checks). Removing these issues can only help, though I totally agree it will not automatically propel resistors into the digital age without other help and encouragement.

Thanks James

I am going to explore the political support and then decide whether to do further research.  I will let everyon know on this site the put come

 

Best wishes

 

Mary

There's some very interesting responses to this thread. I myself have been brought on as the Digital Inclusion officer. We identified in three simple steps, that in order to get online, we would need to provide:
- Training

- Cheaply sourced computers/devices

- A connection

Who pays for what is the problem. By bringing me onboard, we are able to provide training for free and on demand. It is also my responsibility to research technology, cheap computers and feasability of provision of Wi-Fi. We decided that we would bite the bullet and go for free Wi-Fi to our customers and then absorb the costs, not transfering them in service charges. Consequently, we'd have a large initial expense, but hopefully afterwards, just paying for repairs and line rental. It may prove to be an incentive and a necessary resource for disadvantaged residents. We'll also be able to control it, so that we're only providing it for what it should be used for (nothing ilegal or questionable). It does seem that a lot of companies out there are seeing HA's as golden meal tickets on this. So a good bit of savvy sales negotiation is advisable.
When we're up and running, we'll try to post something of a report on the hub.
As for provision of computers, we don't see that as our responsibility. Why would we buy people computers? We're a housing provider. But what we have done is research cheap refurbished machines, and can point our customers in the right direction. We're prepared to consider helping with payment plans, where we could source them, and then release them when they're paid off.

We also provide computer hubs, should residents not want to/can't afford to buy computers. These, again, we've secured, so that they can only be used for good purpose.

We've also researched local libraries, internet cafes, etc, and mapped them for local residents.

As you can imagine, these things take time and funding (I'm also researching and securing funding). Given the time and resources that Digital Inclusion requires to work, I recommend considering employing dedicated Digital Inclusion staff. Speaking solely from my own experience, this project would never get off the ground if it wasn't a dedicated position done by someone that's motivated. As with all social inclusion, it's very much a face to face, hands on job that can't be done from behind a desk. That takes time and patience.

I don't know if this is helpful, but it may be a few things to consider. :)

Phil, if a tenant signs up with a commercial ISP, there are no restrictions on where they can go on the web, if they choose to spend their time on dodgy sites no one will stop them. The police might show an interest if they are visiting child porn or terrorist sites but other than that its a free for all.

As much as on a personal level I wouldnt want to encourage this behaviour the question is - is it the HA's responsibility to control our tenants web usage? especially if we are selling it as a semi commercial venture, and what you and I might find offensive does not necessarily match what our tenants would find offensive so where do we draw the line?

I have no answers to this - but its a good question!

PS our silver surfers do run through our firewall and therefore are subject to our rules - but thats a free service, and we have refused to open up a site that would have allowed a tenant to stream sporting events on the grounds that its in breach of copywrite.

 

 

I fully agree, that if a tenant wishes to purchase their own connection, then they should be free to do with it as they please.

However, in our case, if we are providing the service and not transferring the costs, then it is ours to do with as we see fit. They after all, don't have to use it. Another point to consider is this, that if we provide a service, we are liable for it. I'm aware from talking with others, that one HA that offered free internet, were sued in court by a resident (who won). He claimed that they had fuelled his gambling problems by providing easy access to gambling sites.

I'm also conscious that when we provided unrestricted access at a hub, it became something of a den of iniquity. This put other users off and the police came a ringing. Once we became aware of it, we naturally put it all right, with an upgrade as well to show it was an improvement. At the same time, we put in heavy web filtering. A few were annoyed that they couldn't access their porn, but the hub is now used a great deal more, by more people and for lots of good things like benefits and job searching, social networking and news.

I suppose what I'm saying is, if somebody pays for a service from an external agent, then they have ownership and responsibility. If we provide a service, how responsible are we for ensuring that that service is in fact a vehicle for social improvement over provision?

 

Only a few thoughts! :)

 

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