Network providers must ensure cost is not preventing people from accessing critical information online, the World Wide Web Foundation has warned.
The non-profit, founded by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has urged companies not to pull internet services from households struggling to pay bills during the pandemic, as well as dropping late fees.
“No-one should be going without internet access during this crisis because of cost,” said Adrian Lovett, the foundation’s president and chief executive.
“To ease financial barriers, network providers should commit to serving those customers who fall behind on bills and to waive late fees where these apply.
“This is common practice with energy bills in extreme weather conditions — internet access is just as vital.”
He also advises service providers to go “a step further” by increasing data allowances to ensure people are able to communicate and carry on learning online, as well as “zero-rating” websites for official health organisations and other essential government services, meaning they can be always accessed for free.
“Almost half the world’s population doesn’t have internet access,” Mr Lovett said.
“To be without connectivity in normal times is a grave disadvantage.
“In the crisis we’re facing, it’s devastating.”
He also told governments enforcing internet shutdowns or slowdowns that now is the most important time to stop.