As part of the latest ESG Acceleration Webinar series, Finch & Beak received guest speaker Ineke Rampart, Corporate Affairs Director at Telenet, the Belgian entertainment telecommunication services provider. As an example of Telenet’s new agile organization, Ineke Rampart presented Telenet Essential Internet, a solution developed through lean process management and designed to address new and urgent stakeholder needs.
The article at hand returns to how this opportunity emerged from the global health crisis to meet stakeholders’ needs and further strengthen the company’s commitment to bridge the digital gap.
Last Spring 2020, within a couple of weeks, the telecommunication industry was transformed with billions of people locked down at home and required to work, study and communicate virtually.
Within the Belgian market, Telenet saw an increase of 60% in internet traffic in 2020, when in normal times, internet traffic increases by 30% each year on average. The number of videocalls over the network also doubled during this period. At the same time, the King Baudouin Foundation released a Digital Inclusion Barometer, showing that in 2020, one in ten Belgian household did not have access to a stable internet connection at home. The Barometer also reveals that Belgium is the most unequal European country regarding access to internet for low-income households. Indeed, in 2019, 29% of low-income families (1st income quartile) did not have an internet connection at home.
This revealed a negative trend for Belgium compared with other European countries but also looking at the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 9 target which is to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020. In the case of the Belgian market, the internet is available but not affordable for the most vulnerable populations.
During the first lockdown between March and May 2020, Telenet quickly adapted to ensure network resilience against the increased internet traffic. To further help the most vulnerable families facing a digital gap, Telenet offered free Wi-Fi vouchers to provide basic internet connection through Telenet’s 1.5 million public Wi-Fi points.
Telenet’s commitment to provide network access to larger numbers is not new but is rather embedded in the company’s sustainability strategy. Based on stakeholder importance and business impact for Telenet, ‘Digital inclusion and skills development’ was identified as one of the company’s most material issues and a core focus area for acceleration.
Based on the societal impacts of the Covid-crisis, Telenet has revised its management approach to material issues and recognized that the digital inclusion topic has increased in importance and relevancy for Telenet’s stakeholders. Indeed, civil society and Telenet’s customers expect telecommunication companies such as Telenet to rise to the occasion and provide reliable internet and entertainment services to all customers and especially vulnerable populations with limited digital access.
As commented by Ineke Rampart during the webinar, “what is important is that what we do at Telenet is also reflecting the expectations of the stakeholders, and that it is also really embedded in how we do and drive our business on a daily basis.”
Building on the initiatives taken during the first lockdown between March and May 2020, Telenet developed Telenet Essential internet, a new offer dedicated to vulnerable families. The company took a lean project management approach, realizing multiple sprints with a cross-functional team to develop and test the solution and finalize an offer by January 2021.
To make sure that the solution would be the most relevant and impactful, Telenet also engaged in a holistic stakeholder approach with external consultation with social organizations, local governments and academic experts from Ghent University.
Concretely, the service offers a quick and easy 4G solution providing basic internet at a low price. Vulnerable families who would benefit best from this service are identified with the help of local social organizations such as the Public Centre for Social Welfare (OMCW). Currently tested in three cities in Flanders and Brussels, Telenet hopes to roll out the program by the end of the spring, to meet its target to reach 10,000 households by the end 2021.
In summary, this initiative is a great example of how a company can make the best of an unexpected situation, identifying a new sustainable opportunity to make a contribution on a material issue, and building further positive impact towards its stakeholders.
Are you considering updating your materiality matrix to the post-Covid-19 reality? Get in touch with Josée van der Hoek, Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +34 6 82 04 83 01 for a frank conversation and to hear about how Finch & Beak can support you to accelerate sustainability in the new normal.