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Government to push PC rental for the poor

Half-baked plan to avoid creation of information underclass

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The government wants low income families to rent refurbished PCs so that they don't get left behind in the fast-moving Internet revolution, but they will still have to foot the bill for dial-up access to the Net. Addressing the UK Internet Summit today in London, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, spoke of the government's determination for the UK not to miss out on the opportunities offered by the fast-emerging digital world. A central plank of today's speech was confirmation that 100,000 cheap-to-rent PCs would be made available to families on low incomes. Some reports have claimed that the cost of leasing a refurbished PC could be as little as £5 a month. "We will pioneer a system under which poorer individuals - sometimes through local partnerships - will be able to lease computers and software in the new century in the same way local libraries have loaned books in the last century," he said. In a speech littered with rhetoric, Gordon Brown said that new technology gives people the means to "break down the walls of division, and the barriers of isolation." "We could have a society divided between information haves and information have nots. A society with a wired up superclass and an information underclass. An economy geared to the needs of some parts of Britain but not the whole of Britain." The Chancellor dismissed claims made on BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme, Today, that the cost of dial-up phone access to the Net would prove too expensive for low-income users. Instead, he said the cost of telephone calls in Britain were "coming down in real terms" and he stuck limpet-like to the government's stated position that it was up to the marketplace and competition to bring down costs. In his speech today he said: "Already competition is forcing the price of Internet access down. BT are reviewing charges for Internet access. OFTEL will continue to ensure that competition drives down the cost of Internet access." ®

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