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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 15 June 2021

Deal with broadband providers to help students learn at home doesn't cover Zoom website

Many third-level institutions and schools are using video calling to home school during the crisis.

Image: Shutterstock/Nigmatulina Aleksandra

THE GOVERNMENT’S DEAL with broadband providers to help students study and work from home does not cover Zoom or Microsoft websites.

A number of third-level institutions and schools have highlighted the issue to politicians stating that none of the sites that students are actually using for their online studies, such as Zoom and Microsoft, are covered under the plan announced by Communications Minister Richard Bruton last month.

Replying to a parliamentary question by Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, the minister said in relation to the zero-rating of various resource platforms, telecommunications operators are currently finalising their work in zero-rating of educational resource platforms.

Zero-rating is the practice of providing Internet access without financial cost under certain conditions.

Bruton added that YouTube, Microsoft or Zoom are not included:

“I understand that industry does not propose zero rating specific platforms such as YouTube, Microsoft or Zoom as it is not technically possible to establish when they are being used specifically for educational purposes.”

He said work is underway with the Department of Health to achieve zero-rating of relevant health platforms and it is expected that this exercise will also be finalised shortly.

The minister added that due to the surge in data and voice traffic, regulations were signed to provide mobile network operators flexibility to create extra capacity for mobile phone and broadband services.

Cullinane said despite promises that platforms commonly used for home-schooling would not eat into peoples’ data plans, they are not included in the zero-rating plan, adding that companies are refusing to zero rate anything of real benefit to students.

“I have been contacted by staff in a number of third-level institutions who have told me that the providers will not zero rate any commercial websites including Microsoft, YouTube or Zoom, but these are sites that thousands of university students are using for their online studies.

“This means that students have to pay for online classes done via Zoom, for example.

“I understand that HEAnet offered to help broadband providers identify individual students on their networks so that they could zero rate users rather than websites but this offer was rejected

“At this stage, by the time there is any agreement on this exams will be over and the only person to benefit will be Richard Bruton.”

The issue of digital disparity was raised during Leaders’ Questions today, when Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: 

“There is no way of addressing the concerns and preferences of every student but there are basic principles of equity which must be addressed.  In recent days, I have heard from teachers and principals in many parts of the country about how certain students simply are not able to match others in terms of home-based learning.”  

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