Home Access Programme – Empowering needy households for greater connectivity and quality of life
Infocomm Media Development Authority

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
It is globally recognised that technology is an important enabler in an information society which allows one to access information, communicate and access to opportunities such as education, employment, health and other benefits. Gearing up to its vision of becoming a Smart Nation, Singapore has started its digital transformation as early as 2013, with the introduction of the Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network. According to the Infocomm Usage in Households and by Individual 2015 survey, 88% of households have internet access. Of the 12% unconnected households, majority (over 80 %) are from the low-income segment (SGD1,900 total monthly household income). From simple things like sharing of photos through social media, applying for job online, learning, connecting with family members overseas through video chat, to monitoring of elderly at home, the internet offers a multitude of opportunities for everyone. As part of the Smart Nation initiatives, the Government has rolled out many e-government services, such as e-filing for tax, online passport application, online traffic condition, etc. These applications are implemented to enhance the citizens’ experience and to provide information on-the-go. With digital government and other digital services becoming more prevalent, it is paramount that the vulnerable group must not be digitally left behind due to affordability. To ensure that needy families with school-going children are not at a disadvantage in schools, the Government has been providing assistance schemes to help these families enjoy subsidized PC with internet connectivity for many years. This is to address the converging needs of education and IT, as technology becomes an integral tool for education in the basic curriculum in schools. In addition to helping needy families with school-going children, it was identified that there was a similar gap for households without school-going children, i.e. needy single-member households or families with no children, especially seniors. As technology continues to touch every aspect of daily living, those who are unconnected run the risk of being left out, resulting in social isolation and affecting the overall well-being of the individuals. This group of vulnerable citizens will not be able to reap the benefits of a digital lifestyle which their fellow citizens will get to enjoy as Singapore progresses to be a Smart Nation. Therefore, to help these families kick-start their digital journey, the Home Access Programme was introduced to ensure that the cost of home broadband becomes affordable, so that they can experience the impact of internet and better integrate into the society for well-being and better quality of life.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Home Access Programme (HA) by the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) aims to close the digital divide by providing affordable broadband connectivity to needy households. The four-year programme which started in September 2014 targets to benefit 8,000 households. Each eligible household will receive a free tablet and highly subsidised internet connectivity.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The HA programme promotes digital inclusiveness by making internet connectivity affordable to vulnerable low-income segment of the population so that more citizens can benefit and enjoy better quality of life. The programme is innovatively designed for greater efficiency and lower cost of operations through strong collaboration with other government agencies and organisations from the people sector. Each eligible household enjoys an HA bundle, which consists of home broadband connectivity coupled with a tablet. Beneficiaries can also join the Support Programme to attend free training. Strategy 1: Different Modes of Application The HA programme allows two modes of application to tailor to the different profiles of households. The first is through a pre-qualified list of households receiving long term social assistance as identified by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), This approach resulted in a shortened processing time and a more targeted outreach effort. In the second mode, eligible households interested in the programme can apply directly with the Approving Agencies (AAs) which are represented by Self-Help Groups (SHGs) from the different ethnic groups in Singapore. To make it easy for needy families to sign up, Home Access application forms and pre-paid envelopes are placed at various community touch-points such as community clubs, family service centres and social service offices to bring greater convenience to those in need of assistance. Strategy 2: Leveraging Partners and Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) Expertise and Network SHGs are set up primarily to meet the needs of vulnerable segments within their ethnic groups. These SHGs are appointed as Approving Agencies to assess and approve applications to eligible families. With SHGs’ involvement as front-end agencies, it helps to overcome the language barriers of the applicants and provide customised services to the ethnic groups. Moreover, the SHGs are good partners for outreach as they have existing clients who are likely to be eligible. As these SHGs are independent parties trained to work with the vulnerable segments, there is synergy in the partnership which results in greater efficiency and governance. Through VWOs and their volunteers, the Support Programme is put in place to give assistance to beneficiaries that require help in getting started with the devices and on the internet. IMDA works closely with government agencies such as the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and the MSF to understand the needs of the segment and to jointly reach out to this segment. Strategy 3: Home Access Support Programme to Encourage Usage Going beyond internet connectivity, the programme promotes long-term usage. Through a comprehensive range of training workshops supported heavily by volunteers, we are able to close the infocomm skills gap and to ensure that these needy families can truly benefit from the HA programme. Each beneficiary will receive a starter kit and an option to attend cyberwellness training workshop targeting parents with young children or grandchildren. Beneficiaries can attend group trainings scheduled at different locations around Singapore. To ensure no one is left behind due to illness or immobility, the Lions Befriender volunteers will visit these beneficiaries and provide one-to-one training. Strategy 4: Tapping on Technology to Ensure Efficient and Effective Deployment Given the multi-partner collaboration, an online Home Access System is developed to integrate all key stakeholders’ workflow processes for each case. SHGs relies heavily on the system to ensure there are no duplicates when approving the applications. The system also acts as a control mechanism to ensure that the broadband operator can only deploy services to households within the approved list in the system. This provides greater efficiency and better transparency, governance and tracking for budgeting and audit purposes.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
This programme showcases government’s innovation in developing an ecosystem of community partnerships to raise efficiency and lower cost, making internet access affordable to needy families. HA programme was set up partly from penalty monies collected from telecom operators who fail to comply with the standards or regulations. There was a need to maximize this limited budget and no additional manpower resource for the project. Hence, the need to innovatively identify strategic partnerships to maximize impact with limited resource. At the policy level, IMDA works closely with other Government agencies serving the social sector, so that these policies are aligned with whole-of-government approaches and to leverage existing data and infrastructure for programme management and outreach. As touchpoints for public, SHGs are roped-in given their existing infrastructure and manpower to handle over-the-counter queries., especially since this target segment may need more face-time to understand the details of the programme. This is a win-win partnership as these needy families are their existing target group and the HA bundle is one of the offerings in their basket of help for needy families. VWOs is another strategic group of partners for the support programmes in providing training to ensure usage through their volunteers.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The HA programme is conceptualised and implemented by IMDA. As a Government statutory board, IMDA seeks to build a digitally inclusive society by equipping the low-income households, engaging the senior citizens and empowering the people with disabilities so that they too can enjoy the benefits brought by technology. HA is funded partly through the penalty monies collected by IMDA from the telecom licensees. IMDA, together with NCSS and MSF established strategic partnerships with the social and private sectors to ensure cost savings; work efficiency within the government, independent assessment in means-testing of the low-income families; customised service delivery catered to the different ethnic groups within the community; and a comprehensive suite of user-support programmes designed to promote usage of online services, including e-government services for citizens’ benefits. Through its network, NCSS brought in other VWOs and their respective volunteers to develop starter kits, conduct training classes and home befriending visits as part of the support programmes to close the infocomm skills gap of the beneficiaries and promote long-term use of the tablets. To date, the HA is the only programme in Singapore which provides subsidised home broadband connectivity and free computing device to the low-income segment without school-going children. Under the four-year programme which started in September 2014, 8,000 HA beneficiaries will receive a tablet and subsidised internet connectivity. The programme received good response and over two years, about 7,000 applications had been approved to enjoy affordable fibre broadband connectivity at SGD6 per month (as at Jan 2017).
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Even though the IMDA has been managing programmes to bridge the digital divide, the low-income with no school-going children segment has not been addressed due to low demand in the past years. With partners and VWOs feedback, and statistics from the Annual Infocomm Usage in Households and by Individuals Survey, IMDA was able to ascertain that it is now timely and essential to introduce a new programme focusing on this targeted population. In line with the launch of the Smart Nation Initiative in 2014, IMDA announced the Home Access Programme with the aim of making internet connectivity more accessible and affordable to the low-income households without school-going children. Plan 1: Secure Funding for the Home Access Programme In April 2014, the Digital Inclusion (DI) Fund was set up. The HA programme taps on the DI Fund, which is channeled from penalties collected from the telecom operators due to non-compliance and Government funding. Plan 2: Keep Cost of Broadband Package Low To keep the cost of the broadband packages low and attractive for the low-income, in mid-2014, IMDA did a Call-for-Proposal (CFP) exercise where internet service providers were invited to submit their proposals which allowed each service provider to include a corporate social responsibility element and to propose the most cost-effective bundle. Plan 3: Achieve Efficiency and Governance through Leveraging Partners and Technology Although the team could secure the funding for programme, there was a restriction on the hiring of additional manpower for its operations. This is a common challenge faced by government agencies both in Singapore and overseas. In order to work around this manpower resource challenge, IMDA is able to innovatively develop an ecosystem of community partnerships; leveraging each partners’ strengths to play a different role within the programme. IMDA partnered NCSS, who works with the appointed SHGs as Approving Agencies to ensure that applicants are assessed independently based on the eligibility criteria set by IMDA. To incentivise the AAs to be efficient, IMDA also rewards them if they can process the applications on-time. The reward is a way to defray some administrative cost of these SHGs. External audit was also conducted as checks on governance. Application processing is made more efficient through the use of a workflow process system. The reports generated from the system is used to regularly monitor and track the deployment, ensure timely processing, and for data analysis on profiles of beneficiaries and demand trends. These reports are presented to the NCSS and IMDA management on a quarterly basis for accountability. Plan 4: Customised Service Delivery Through MSF, IMDA was able to pre-qualify a group of households receiving financial and social assistance, who are notified to enjoy the HA bundle, thereby reducing overheads in application processing. Individuals interested to apply for the programme can go directly with the AAs which are represented by SHGs from all ethnic SHGs in Singapore. Pre-paid envelops are also placed at island-wide community centers and social service offices to bring better convenience to those in need of assistance. Plan 5: Solicit Feedback to ensure Relevancy of Programme Feedback is essential to evaluate the effectiveness and benefits of the Programme. For this programme, verbal feedback is important, as the low-income group may not be savvy to conduct online surveys and more candid information can be obtained through the verbatim mode. Therefore, a face-to-face survey was conducted with the beneficiaries in 2016 to seek feedback and to assess the effectiveness of the programme. Regular review meetings are also conducted with partners and internet service provider to resolve any operational challenges and explore ways to streamline the process, where applicable.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
As a media, telecom and infocomm regulator, IMDA is set up to ensure businesses and its citizens can tap on technology as an enabler. As such, it is essential that there are digital inclusion programmes in place to ensure no one is digitally left behind. The Digital Inclusion team has other programmes targeted at low-income with school-going children, seniors, and people with disability. The HA programme is designed and conceptualised by IMDA and implemented through strategic partnerships with other Government agencies, SHGs and VWOs. The roles of each partner are tabulated below: Partner: MSF Role: On policy matters and as an conduit to identify pre-qualified households receiving long and short term financial assistance. Partner: NCSS Role: On policy matters and as appointed Administrator to jointly manage the SHGs and Support Programme. Partner: SHGs, including Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), MENDAKI Sense (Mendaki), Association for Muslim Professionals (AMP), Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and the Eurasian Association (EA) Role: Processing of applications and assessment of eligibility of households. Partner: VWOs, including TOUCH Community Services, CDAC, Lions Befrienders Role: TOUCH – Coordinating agency for support programme, collate feedback on training; CDAC – Conduct center-based training; Lions Befrienders – Conduct home-based training. Partner: Corporate Volunteers Role: Help out in center-based and home-based training

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Based on a recent poll, it was noted that 88% of the Home Access beneficiaries are seniors above 50 years old (of which, 65% are aged 65 years and above), from household income of less than S$1,900. The seniors in the low-income group are generally one of the most vulnerable groups with the highest risk of being digitally excluded and socially isolated. This supports SDG 1 and SDG 10 which are to ensure that needy families who are vulnerable and poorest segments of the population also have equal opportunities to enjoy good quality of life and a stake in Singapore’s progress as a Smart Nation. The good demand on the ground with about 7,000 households taking this programme up ahead of its projected date, is in itself a reflection of its benefits to this target group. 97% of these families surveyed agreed that they have benefitted from the programme with the top three uses of the internet for these families are for the purposes of entertainment, searching for information and getting updates on the latest news. By promoting equal opportunities among the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-Nots’ and reducing this this digital divide gap, the programme will indirectly support SDG 8 which is bring about a stable and sustainable environment for economic growth. The implementation of the Support Programme supports SDG 4 to promote lifelong learning, where those who need assistance to use the bundle provided are given free centre-based and even home-based training. Volunteers are also deployed for home-based training to the homes of those who are less mobile. Through feedback, majority of the beneficiaries who attended the training agreed that they had benefitted from the training which they had attended. Anecdotally, many of these beneficiaries like the centre-based training as they also enjoy social interaction with other course mates. Reference from SDGs: Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Problem 1: Resource Constraint It is estimated that 4 fulltime headcounts are required to administer the programme. Rationalising and reprioritisation were done to optimise resources for efficiency and effectiveness. IMDA is innovative in leveraging the resources and strengths of its partners. For instance, NCSS appointed SHGs to ensure applications are assessed independently. Since NCSS and SHGs are established to assist the vulnerable segments, they have experience and resources to support the programme. The SHGs also have ready touchpoints for applicants to go to for assistance and cater to the various ethnic and language requirements. By leveraging this Whole-of-Government collaborative approach, IMDA is able to undertake the new programme and achieve the outcomes without requiring additional manpower resources. Problem 2: Exception Handling While the programme has set criteria to qualify needy families, there are exceptions for families with different situations that merit consideration. For example, families with high medical bills due to chronic illness. To manage exceptions, the programme puts in place an appeal framework. These appeals will be escalated to IMDA, who will re-examine the documentations and independently review the AA’s assessment, taking into consideration the special circumstances with inputs from NCSS and in consultation with MSF, where necessary. Although this is resource intensive, it is an important to ensure needy families are not denied of assistance. Problem 3: Language Barrier The low-income group may not be well-educated. To overcome language barriers, the marketing collaterals come in four languages with pictorial step-by-step guides. Moreover, SHGs are ethnically-associated are able to reach out to those who speak the respective languages. Problem 4: Ensure long-term Usage The effectiveness of the programme is not just about ownership but about usage. Hence, the Support Programme to promote usage of online services, including government e-services and is an integral part of the overall programme.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Technology and the internet are ubiquitous in today’s digital economy and can be harnessed for benefits to the society. Technology has allowed easy access to information, learning, opportunities and greater convenience to our lives. In Singapore, 88% of the households have broadband connectivity. But majority of the 12% of households who do not have broadband connectivity fall within the low-income bracket. To close this gap, the Home Access programme provides subsidised broadband bundles to needy families, so that affordability is not and should not be a barrier for this target group to enjoy the undeniable benefits of a digital lifestyle. The programme intends to reach out to 8,000 households within a four-year period, starting from Sep 2014. The response has been very positive, and in just 16 months, about 7,000 bundles have been given out (as of Jan 2017). This strong demand for the programme demonstrates that these low-income households see the need for internet connectivity and the programme has helped to make it possible by closing the financial gap. Through working with other government agencies to prequalify households who are already assessed to be eligible for other Government financial assistance schemes, it has reduced the processing time by about half. Without the need to re-assess them, it greatly reduces overheads and these households do not need to reproduce supporting documents in order to enjoy the programme with a faster turnaround time. Results from the face-to-face survey conducted were positive, with 69% of HA beneficiaries being first-time broadband subscribers. This means that the programme has been effective in helping these families get started, who would otherwise not have the opportunity to do so. 97% of the beneficiaries said they benefitted from the programme with 61% responded that they accessed the internet at home at least once a day and 17% at least once a week. The top three uses of the internet were for entertainment-purposes, to search for information and to get news online. The survey also revealed that the programme benefitted other household members. There was a change in behavior amongst many beneficiaries, including their household members, with an increase in internet usage from 37% to 75% after receiving the HA bundle. A video on the story of one of the Home Access beneficiaries can be viewed at https://youtu.be/lYM-rABPZWI Due to the good response, there is an urgent review on the programme to see how the programme may be continued to benefit more households.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The HA system was developed to handle the end-to-end workflow process of the programme, and allow coordination to be done across the different stakeholders. The HA system allows efficiency in processing and provides oversight in tracking the status of every application. System validation checks are in place to ensure no human error in approving ineligible applications. The system also ensures governance, as the internet service provider is only able to deploy cases approved by the SHGs in the HA system. Appeals escalated to IMDA are also tracked in the system to ensure that every case is tracked and closed. Reports can also be generated from the system for analysis, tracking and audit purposes. These measures allow for greater financial governance and accountability. Regular audits are conducted onsite, including home visits to beneficiaries to uncover any risks or issues which may be indicators of weak processes or to reveal any possible fraudulent activities. Any findings will be surfaced to top management of all stakeholders and rectified through tighter controls. Ad-hoc random calls to beneficiaries are made by IMDA and our partner to validate that they receive their tablets and annual audits are done to ensure governance and integrity is achieved.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Not applicable

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Infocomm Media Development Authority
Institution Type:   Public Agency  
Contact Person:   Keshona Pok
Title:   Assistant Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   keshona_pok@imda.gov.sg  
Address:   3 Fusionopolis Way #16-22 Symbiosis
Postal Code:   138633
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore
Country:  

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