U.K. aims to close digital gap with cheap PCs

Initiative offering a computer system for under 100 pounds is part of a project to have all U.K. adults online by the London Olympics next year.

Ben Woods Special to CNET News
3 min read

A new plan will offer a PC and peripherals for 98 pounds ( $157) to help get low-income Britons online, according to the recycling project that will provide the hardware.

The plan, which launches this week, will provide a computer, flat-screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, and telephone support in the sub-100-pound package, E-cycle marketing manager John Busby said Tuesday. The initiative is a part of the Race Online 2012 project, which aims to have the whole U.K. adult population online by the time of the London Olympics in 2012.

"We have an opportunity here in the U.K. to make sure we are achieving internet skills and usage as high as TV usage," the U.K.'s digital champion Martha Lane Fox told the Financial Times. "We should be using our old computers and refurbishing them to close the gap in this country."

The Race Online 2012 organization estimates that there are currently 9.2 million adults in the U.K. without access to broadband Internet services, some of whom are deterred by the cost of hardware, according to Lane Fox. In the U.K., the average cost of a laptop is around 500 pounds while the average price for a desktop is 380 pounds, according to Ranjit Atwal, research director of Gartner's client computing team.

Hardware options
The PC plan--which is currently still in its trial phase--will provide a choice of hardware based around the Intel Pentium 4 processor. The hardware will be supplied through the E-cycle scheme, an IT recycling project run by Remploy, which specializes in finding work for disabled and disadvantaged people.

The 98-pound option will include a 15-inch monitor, a 2.0GHz P4 processor, 256MB RAM, a 20GB hard drive, and will run Ubuntu--a variant of Linux--rather than Windows, Busby told ZDNet UK. At the top end of the scale, E-cycle is supplying a desktop with a 17-inch monitor, a 2.8GHz P4 processor, 512MB RAM, and a 40GB hard drive for around 140 pounds.

Remploy says that it is still working out the details of how best to target the intended demographic, but it will initially reach its target audience via 60 online computer training centers, as well as via charities. However, Busby said that there is currently no prerequisite for purchasing the low-cost machines and no licensing restrictions that stop them from providing the computers to a wider audience.

Race Online 2012 has also negotiated a cut-price deal with mobile operator 3 to provide mobile broadband for the devices, starting from 9 pounds per month or 18 pounds for three months on a rolling contract. Pre-pay dongle deals will also be available in 1GB, 3GB, and 12GB usage allowances, with prices for the 1GB starting from 12 pounds.

In May, the coalition government announced that it was scrapping Becta, the agency responsible for IT in education, which had a similar plan known as the Home Access program in place to provide funding for low-income families to purchase computing equipment.

Read more of "Government aims to close digital gap with £98 PCs" at ZDNet UK.