8. Let's get on through our homes
Widespread availability of fixed fibre broadband connections, complemented by mobile and wireless technologies, will drive Scotland's future infrastructure requirements and underpin our wide-ranging world class digital ambitions. Consequently, the way in which we plan and equip our homes, be they owner occupied or rented, offers an opportunity to enable increased rates of digital participation. The financial, social and environmental case for doing so is becoming ever stronger as digital technologies become more prevalent and domestic and business users seek to maximise benefit through home working, environmental management and other machine to machine technologies.
The overall percentage of social housing tenants in Scotland with internet access at home is significantly lower than those enjoyed in the private rented or owner occupied sectors. Scottish Household Survey 2012 data suggests that rates of digital exclusion amongst those in social rented accommodation are around 45% and this is known to vary considerably across the country with, for example, the Glasgow Housing Association estimating that around 62% of its tenants are currently offline. Whether this is a result of a fear of technology, lower levels of income or another reason, we want tenants to have the opportunity to be active and responsible digital citizens.
We are prototyping a range of technologies and business models aimed at accelerating the pace towards our world class vision. A key strand of this activity involves working in partnership with social landlords to trial solutions that provide affordable connectivity and suitable training and support in different settings. This work also allows social landlords to test models that enable business transformation and ensure continuity of provision - enabling their clients to get online and exploring the operating efficiencies that this technology brings.
An early pilot project is the joint initiative with Glasgow Housing Association and BT. The aim of the study is to test the feasibility of developing a low-cost broadband solution in a multi-storey block. The chosen block includes 138 units and a range of customers including single person households and temporary flats for homeless people. The project is backed by more than £70,000 of funding from the Scottish Government. The cost to GHA is £5 per tenant per month - about a fifth of the standard cost of broadband. Over 50% of households have signed up to participate in the study. Key aspects of the project are as follows:
- the wireless technology delivers individual access to every flat, with tenants initially offered a 10Mbps service
- the system has the capability to offer different service options in the future and the flexibility for the landlord to charge for premium level services above the basic 10Mbps (if, for example, the tenant wants a faster connection)
- a separate, secure network for housing officers to support their use of technology when they visit tenants
- each participating household has been given a device to use during the study, but up to three other devices can be used per household at any one time. The type of devices e.g. smart phones, tablets, PCs being used is being monitored to establish demand.
- in order to help tenants get online, GHA are working in partnership with Glasgow Kelvin College, Glasgow Life and other partners to develop and fund an assisted digital programme which provides tenants with supported learning and drop-in surgeries.
- tenants are asked to sign an acceptable use policy and usage of the service can be monitored to ensure compliance with this policy and establish the service level needed
Management information gathered will be compared with the results of surveys with participants before, during and after the study to establish benefits of the study and changes in behaviour over time - e.g. increased internet use, wider internet site use, public service website use.
In order to ensure world class levels of digital participation we will:
- disseminate emerging findings from technology pilots which are testing technical solutions and delivery models to bring affordable connectivity for tenants in social and affordable housing
- encourage new build developments subsidised through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme to incorporate broadband connectivity.
- encourage Housing Associations in partnership with other public sector organisations to develop sustainable business models for retrofitting broadband connectivity to existing homes, based on a cost benefit analysis of its value for service providers, tenants and landlords
- encourage Housing Associations and local authorities to develop and use procurement frameworks to secure connectivity for existing homes, devices and services for tenants
- evaluate and share best practice on how to provide digital training and support for tenants in social housing