Mobile phones and internet now ‘essential’


Matthew Sparkes Deputy Head of Technology

July 22, 2014

Britons say the ability to contact the emergency services, keep in touch with family and friends, or access information, education and entertainment are all among “essential” services

Britons believe that they can’t do without the internet and mobile phones, new Ofcom research reveals.

The study examined which communications services UK consumers consider ‘essential’ in their day to day lives and whether they are affordable, particularly for the most vulnerable in society.

People said the ability to contact the emergency services, keep in touch with family and friends, or access information, education and entertainment were among “essential” services.

Overall, the study found that telephone services, in particular mobiles, and internet access were most essential to UK consumers. Some 61 per cent of consumers rated voice services (mobile or landline) as essential, 59 per cent considered mobile voice or text services as essential, while 57 per cent regarded personal internet access as essential.

The research also revealed that certain services are considered essential by some, but less important by others, with age being a key factor. Landline telephone services are considered essential by people aged 75 and above 61 per cent, compared to just 12 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds. However, accessing the internet via a smartphone was considered essential to 53 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds, but to no one aged 75 and above.

Ofcom also examined the affordability of essential communications services. Among those consumers who said they were responsible for paying for them, 86 per cent said they never had difficulties meeting the costs.

This is consistent with previous Ofcom research showing that consumers had benefitted from falling prices and an increase in choice and quality over the last ten years.

Of the minority (14 per cent) that have had difficulties paying for communications services, three quarters (74 per cent) have been careful about spending while managing their communications costs; just under half (45 per cent) have cut back on luxuries; while around a third (36 per cent) opt for cheaper goods or services.

The research found there to be low awareness of affordable deals among low income users; and just 26 per cent of consumers on income support knew about social landline tariffs offered by BT and KCOM.

Of those responsible for paying for communications services, a small minority (two per cent) said they have been in debt or fallen behind on payments while trying to manage their telecoms costs.

The high take-up of essential communication services shows that, in most cases, cost is not a barrier to use. Some 95 per cent of households have at least one mobile phone, 84 per cent have a landline and 82 per cent an internet connection.

But for some consumers, particularly those in low income households, cost is a reason for not having a desired service. This applies particularly to broadband, with seven per cent of consumers saying they would like to have broadband but don’t because of the cost.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “While it’s encouraging that the majority of people don’t experience difficulties paying for their communications services, it’s important that help is available for those who do.

“We’re working to ensure that all consumers can benefit from the communications services which are most important for modern life.”

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