Working with Wales Co-operative Centre
Posted on 26th January 2022 at 09:26
RWG’s ‘Connected Networks’ mobile broadband solution is helping Wales Co-operative Centre to boost digital inclusion for communities and individuals hardest hit by the pandemic. As many job (and other) opportunities, plus key wellbeing services, move almost exclusively online, affordable access to the web is essential. Through the Welsh Government’s ‘Communities for Work’ programme, Wales Co-operative Centre has been able to distribute nearly 500 connected laptops to those most in need. RWG’s Connected Networks provides each device with a SIM card and broadband access through a selection of mobile operator networks. The Connected Networks solution was selected because of its low cost and high coverage. In addition, its cloud management platform gives Wales Cooperative Centre the highest levels of control, accounting and reporting.
Celebrating its 40th birthday in 2022, the Wales Co-operative Centre works to create a better, fairer, more cooperative Wales. Big ask, right? So the mission is matched by action, right at the grass roots. Practical stuff, backed by funding, offering direct support for the creation of co-operative businesses, mutual and employee-owned businesses and social enterprises. Organisations, in other words, that are rooted in their communities, delivering for their communities, and sharing opportunity and wealth more evenly across those communities.
By the time Wales Co-operative Centre entered its twenties, it was already obvious that there was an emerging, structural inequality to fix if all of those grander ambitions were to reach their potential: digital exclusion.
It’s not an exclusively Welsh problem, but it’s keenly felt here. If you don’t have the economic means, or the knowledge, or the bandwidth, to access the web you are de facto excluded from almost every kind of opportunity. You can’t see jobs advertised online. You can’t access benefits easily. You can’t buy things. You can’t sell things. You are isolated from services, communities and support networks - almost everything that makes life rich, safe and prosperous. So for the last 15 years, Wales Co-operative Centre has been working hard to’ include the excluded’.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, when the shift to online living accelerated dramatically, the problem was once again in the spotlight.
In its ‘Communities for Work’ programme, the Welsh Government had a ready-made vehicle to help the hardest hit. With fifteen years experience offering digital inclusion programmes such as ‘Digital Communities Wales’, the Wales Co-operative Centre had the networks, knowhow and experience to rapidly provision the programme with devices and bandwidth.
It issued a tender for a partner that could bring mobile connectivity and a management platform: to connect users and their laptops to the Internet, wherever they were. The connectivity had to be low cost and plentiful. And the management platform had to allow Wales Co-operative Centre to provision bandwidth easily, as well as control how it was consumed and to some extent what it was used for. RWG were the successful provider.
“RWG’s solution was very cost effective - and that was a prerequisite of the tender. But beyond that they demonstrated a real grasp of the challenge, and brought new thinking to the solution,” says Dewi Smith, programme manager for Wales Co-operative Centre.
Nearly 500 laptops and other devices will be provided with an RWG SIM card, connecting them to one of two 4G mobile networks - because no one provider yet offers reliable, blanket coverage in Wales. The data allowance for each SIM is allocated from a shared pool, so that Wales Co-operative Centre can manage the distribution of the megabytes efficiently and fairly. There’s also a very clear audit and reporting trail for each SIM. That’s part of the value of the RWG management platform. But it goes further, allowing managers to block access, for example, to adult content. It’s more about good citizenship than censorship: the programme is promoting access to opportunity and wellbeing, and funding from the taxpayer comes with certain common sense terms and conditions.
“RWG’s Connected Networks solution has a very feature-rich management platform, allowing us to protect ourselves not just from ‘bill shock’ but reputational damage as well,” says Dewi. “And the support from the team at RWG as we’ve set up and used the platform has been excellent.”
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