Is access to affordable connectivity a basic human right and can the UK ‘level up’ equally if some have it and some don’t?
When we think about basic human rights we list things like liberty, the right to own property, have a family, express opinions, work, learn, stay healthy, or seek asylum. Increasingly, accessing these basic rights is impossible without reliable connectivity. Most of the public services we need and daily human interactions take place online. So, has connectivity itself become a basic human right, if it’s an essential gateway to so many things we consider sacrosanct?
In today’s digital society, the web opens up access to so many different services for people nowadays that those living without connectivity really are missing out.
There are more ‘Internet of Things’ ’(IoT) in the world today. These are devices such as medical sensors, smart devices e.g., mobile phones,voice controllers, all connected to the internet which means technologies are all around us, requiring ever more dependable connectivity. New and emerging technologies are seeping into our everyday lives. We recognise them in our leisure and gaming activities but increasingly they are present in the social care, health, and education technologies in our communities too.
As health and social care technologies move away from analogue, to purely digital in 2025, everyone will need equal access to connectivity. We saw a foreshadowing of this during the pandemic when everything went online; from shopping to dating, work, learning and ‘visiting’ the doctor, everything happened virtually. This was when the stark contrast between digital haves and have-nots became most apparent. Parents continued to homeschool through various waves of Covid, and even with a lack of connectivity there was an expectation to engage with teachers online and to carry out homework. The government’s Levelling Up White Paper claims by 2030 most primary school children will be achieving expected standards in reading, writing and arithmetic.
The £5bn for Project Gigabit (mentioned in the Levelling Up White Paper), will bring ‘gigabit-capable broadband to 85% of the UK by 2025’. This is good news, but does not address all of the issues around affordable connectivity in the UK. People in digitally deprived communities often fail to access online public services, even when connectivity is available to them, because they can't afford the associated data and connectivity charges. So a more nuanced approach to solving this problem is needed.
To support Liverpool’s digital levelling up ambitions, Liverpool 5G Create, part of 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, built a 5G network - one of the largest private-public sector networks in Europe, designed to benefit technologies which public sector own or commission to service providers like: social care, general practitioners, community care, schools and the education sector, with a view to developing affordable connectivity.
By using a private 5G network, the aim is to improve future resilience and reduce inequalities that arise from lack of affordable access but to also reduce costs for the NHS and free up resources within social care. As the analogue technologies will cease to run in 2025, the local authorities will need affordable digital technologies for replacement.
The project has found some sustainable solutions. Community volunteers in Kensington are trialling public sector technologies but aren't charged for the connectivity. Liverpool 5G Create can do this because the 5G ‘network-of-networks’ uses council owned assets to provide a network that incorporates LoRaWAN, WiFi and cellular 5G. The project also incorporates a more agile business model that allows for the creation of bespoke connectivity solutions for digital public services.
Technologies being trialled by Liverpool 5G Create, in Kensington, Liverpool include:
- Urine monitor; Onsite urine monitor to detect infections. The system transmits ultra high resolution images of the urine samples for further analysis at GP surgeries with sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms.
- Vitralert; IoT sensor which monitors movement in community and care settings to include; respiratory rate, heart rate, falls, pressure area (for turns protocols)
- Schools/Education support; Chromebooks - Providing connectivity for pupils in Kensington. Increased connectivity for pupils currently unable to access online learning when required to work from home.
- Chill Panda App; Aims to give children better coping mechanisms for dealing with their emotions; by measuring heart rate and teaching breathing, yoga and distraction techniques. A wearable device provides biofeedback data so children can understand how their heart rate and feelings of anxiety are linked, learning coping strategies to manage anxiety better.
- Wound Management; AI based imaging techniques being used to categorise pressure ulcers, analyse tissue types and provide standardised reporting characteristics.
- Docobo-Care Portal; For patients in the community - a device using 5G functionality with built-in ECG, which supports video consultation to provide telehealth services e.g.. reports breathing rate, heart rate variation plus heart health status of patients.
- GP Surgeries; Deployment of the 5G networks to offer the bandwidth and speed to deliver the Wide-Area Network (WAN) connectivity required for secure delivery of Digital Clinical Services, with its superior coverage and penetration.
- Hug Vest; The haptic shirt device allows care home residents to get remote hugs from family to reduce feelings of isolation and increase the wellbeing for care home residents.
- MySense AI; A telecare monitoring equipment which allows individuals to stay independent longer living at home, by identifying changes in behaviour and habit, allowing early intervention and support home living.
The project has recently connected Kensington’s Phoenix Primary School to the 5G network, giving children at the school reliable, free connectivity for the purpose of working at home whilst isolating with Covid and for doing homework.
The children were given a Chromebook as part of the project, which has the Chill Panda application uploaded so they can access the anti-anxiety game Chill Panda. The game was created by Liverpool 5G members and games developers, CGA Simulation, and it teaches children to manage feelings of anxiety by using yoga, breathing, and mindfulness techniques. Each child gets a wearable wrist device to use whilst playing Chill Panda. The device, which records their heart rate, teaches them how they can manage / reduce their anxiety and improve their wellbeing.
Liverpool 5G Create has been the driving force behind the mobile health, social care and education project in Kensington. It has great ambitions to help the government level up its plans to improve health, education and the economy by affording everybody access to reliable connectivity. This blog is demonstrative of the fact that affordable connectivity has been considered with a level of seriousness.
If reliable connectivity differentiates between improved life chances / choices for young people or falling behind in education, does it constitute a basic human right?
Liverpool 5G Create is part of the 5G Testbeds and Trial Programme and funded by DCMS. It is led by the University of Liverpool with partners: eHealth Cluster; Liverpool City Council, Blu Wireless Technology,, Telet Research, Broadway Partners, Liverpool John Moores University, CGA Simulation, Docobo, NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust.