Yesterday the government renewed their intention to provide free broadband and computers to underprivileged families. The original £300m scheme announced in September 2008 set to bring low income families online to help plug the gap of 1.4 million children who at the time didn't have access to broadband at home.
The project is now expected to give a grant of £500 to children aged between 7 and 13 from 270,000 low income families to select an approved computer and provide a free 12 month broadband connection. After the 12 months, the families seem to be left to their own devices with a new ongoing cost that they will likely have to continue paying if they don't want to then deprive their children of their Internet connection.
No information has been released on what computers or whether users will have a choice in broadband connection, however the rollout is not expected to start until March 2011. It also isn't clear if the £500 is expected to cover the cost of the broadband connection. If this will come out of the remaining £175m, then users can probably expect a good connection as £175m across 270,000 connections works out as £54 a month- enough for Virgin's 50meg broadband service! Of course, one expects some of this will be eaten up by public procurement overheads, but we do hope that this doesn't work out at more than half the cost of the scheme!
TalkTalk haven't been impressed by the announcement and today have said that other schemes being introduced by the government will price more people out of the broadband market.
"The Prime Minister's announcement that 270,000 low income families will receive a free computer and free broadband access betrays some deeply muddled thinking. No-one would dispute that getting low income families online is a good thing. But the Government's other initiatives are working to discourage uptake and make internet access unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of other families.
"As a result of two government proposals – the phone tax and copyright protection – families face an extra cost of £30 a year to stay online. Demand modelling shows that this additional burden could lead to 600,000 financially stretched families being forced to give up their broadband connections.
"We've always said that the phone tax is regressive and unfair and this latest announcement – for all its superficial appeal – demonstrates the inconsistency in the Government's approach rather well. This tax is not about getting people onto broadband – it is about taxing everyone to allow the relatively well-off in rural areas to get super-fast speeds. As for the costs of protecting copyright, it is obscene that poorer families face the prospect of being priced out of the internet in order to prop up the outdated business models of big studios and record labels."TalkTalk Statement
TalkTalk may be more concerned by most at the prospect of 600,000 broadband connections being dropped as they offer low cost services that would attract low-income families. Whether 600,000 is accurate will be seen in time.