Start Broadband exists to provide a home internet connection for families who would otherwise go without. If you’re in the poverty cycle, and you’re not online, you find yourself behind and you can’t catch up again. We provide a fully-funded connection, modem and free internet for two years to low-income families. We do that by selling Internet services to homes and businesses and then taking a share of profit and donating the connection to families in need.
Those missing out on access to the internet tend to belong to already marginalised groups of society— remote communities, the elderly, people living with a disability, Indigenous communities. People who can least afford to be disconnected.
When I first started working for telcos, broadband was a luxury product. In a short space of time, society became completely dependent on the internet for the way it functions. If you ask someone now whether they’d rather go without the internet for a week or without hot water for a week, they’re going to have to think pretty hard about it.
In the latter years of my corporate career, I saw how the consequences continued to grow for those families left behind. I started to think about what we could do to serve those in our community who were currently missing out. And that’s where the concept for Start was born.
Since 2016, we’ve donated more than 30,000 days of free internet to low-income families. Personally, it has been a joy to play a small part in making life easier for families in need of support. Becoming a B-Corp has helped me get a clearer sense of the bigger picture.
Before we registered, we didn’t really have a robust way to think about how we treat our staff, how we look after the environment, how we procure in a way that makes our local area better. It’s certainly helped us become a much better-rounded business.
Staff tell me it’s energising to be working in a place that is dedicated to doing good. We’ve got people working here with values, people who love to make a difference. In previous jobs, they’d try to squeeze those things – your values – in outside of work. We want them to bring all of that to the job. You come to work and you get to fulfill your values. Every day, you get to help out.
The thing that makes me proud is when I hear how an internet connection is changing lives. That’s what we’re here for. We share stories reasonably regularly about the families that are using the sponsored internet connection and the things that they do with it. Even if it’s just small things like, you know, a family who no longer has to take their kids to the local library to do homework in the evening. They’re the kind of things that you see are able to make a difference.
If your kids have got to go down to the local library to do their homework, it might not sound like such a bad thing. But if you’ve got one family whose kids each have a device and can sit at home and do their homework over the course of the evening and then you’ve got another family that has to squeeze in everything around trying to mobilise to the local library and wait for a computer, it just stands to reason you aren’t going to get the same outcomes. That’s why it’s so important for for everybody to have equal access.
Even things that seem like a bit of a luxury, like online streaming and social media are actually quite important to how people engage in society. People who are unable to access Netflix are excluded from that conversation. There’s an added social isolation that can come from being disconnected.
That isolation has only widened since the pandemic hit. Platforms like Skype and Zoom already existed, but they weren’t employed en masse, until COVID forced us all into using those platforms. That made it really, really consequential to not be online. But it’s also been good in the sense that digital inclusion, which effectively just means people’s involvement in and access to the internet, was never a recognised issue before.
The next frontier for us is to see more families sponsored, but also to continue to work with partner organisations and advocacy groups to raise awareness for the cause. I think there are multiple people who have a role to play in solving this problem. I think government has a role to play. Charity and advocacy organisations have a role to play. I think market has a role to play. That means companies like us, and customers voting with their wallet. I think the only way that you solve a problem of this scale is to have all aspects of the industry involved.