Virgin Media O2's national databank looks to tackle digital poverty with free data

mobile phone
(Image credit: Shutterstock / ImYanis)

Virgin Media O2 is rolling out its ‘National Data Bank’ initiative across the UK, providing free mobile data and SIM cards to those struggling to afford connectivity.

The scheme arose from other measures taken by the company and the wider telecoms industry to keep consumers connected during the pandemic, recognising the increasing importance of mobile and broadband to everyday life.

As society increasingly becomes digitised, Internet access is essential for education, work and access public services and anyone who remains offline is put at a disadvantage.

Virgin Media O2 national databank

Virgin Media O2 intends for the databank to be like a food bank for data and is working with community groups to get vouchers and SIMs to those most at risk of ‘digital poverty’.

After a successful three-month pilot of the scheme staged with partner Good Things Foundation, which works with up to 5,000 community groups across the UK, the databank will now be available more widely.

The company has donated £500,000 to the foundation for covering the costs of the scheme, and has increased the value of its vouchers from 7GB to 15GB. The firm will also offer digital skills training and has promised to donate 10GB of data to the databank for every new mobile tariff taken out between now and the end of January 2022.

“With many millions of people still facing digital exclusion, now is the time to come together and close the gap on digital inequality, and build a lasting legacy to help end data poverty for good,” said Virgin Media O2 CEO Lutz Schüler. “The success of the pilot scheme has shown us just how important the National Databank is to those who need it – and as it rolls out across the UK, we want to do even more.

“Having sufficient data in our increasingly digital society is not a nice to have, it’s an absolute essential. With Christmas coming up and many set to spend the festive period alone, being connected to loved ones and to spend less on bills could make the world of difference and provide company to many for whom Christmas may be a lonely season

“The National Databank – which can be thought of as a ‘food bank for data’ – is already doing great work to bridge the digital divide. We’re very proud to be rolling out nationwide and we’re delighted that Virgin Media O2 is upping its data pledge this Christmas. Together, we can come together to help address the issue of data poverty in the UK once and for all.”

Schüler has previously suggested other operators could get involved in the initiative, making it a cross-industry effort. However many operators have offered free data or affordable tariffs during the pandemic. 

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.