U.K. government subsidizes Linux PCs for the poor and unwired


The British government has launched a pilot scheme to help citizens who lack Internet access buy refurbished Linux-based PCs for 98 Pounds. Run by a firm called Remploy, the trial is part of the government’s Race Online 2012 program to get all U.K. citizens online.

Reemploy, which bills itself as the U.K.’s leading provider of specialist employment services for disabled people, says the so-called ‘E-cycle’ project is funded largely by the British government via its “Race Online 2012” and “Networked Nation” initiatives spearheaded by government-appointed “UK Digital Champion” Martha Lane Fox. Race Online 2012 aims to get the 9.2 million adults in the UK who are currently offline hooked up with Internet connections. About four million of this group is socially and economically disadvantaged, says the company.


Reemploy employee refurbishing donated PC
Source: Reemploy

The Remploy’E-cycle” scheme uses refurbished computers that are then loaded with Linux software and offered with Internet access from mobile provider “Three,” priced at 9 Pounds ($14.40) per month or twice that for three months.

Computer prices start at 98 Pounds (about $156) for a PC with a flat-screen monitor, mouse, and keyboard, complete with warranty, telephone support, and delivery, says Reemploy. About 60 U.K. online centers will take part in the one-year trial, which is expected to be joined by 8,000 consumers.

Reemploy does not mention Linux, but a BBC story on the E-cycle scheme says that the computers will run “open-source software, such as Linux.” According to the publication, Reemploy will adapt its existing E-cycle scheme for providing refurbished computers to disabled people to the Race Online 2012 program.

Several previous government-sponsored initiatives in the U.K. have offered cheap PCs to poor, unwired citizens, including a “Home Access Scheme” that began to distribute free laptops to pupils from poor backgrounds in January 2010, says BBC News. However, with the recession, as well as a new, more conservative, Tory-led coalition government led by Prime Minister David Cameron, the scheme was canceled eight months later, says the story.

Now, Martha Lane Fox, who has been given the title UK Digital Champion by Cameron — sort of a “digital czar” in the U.S. political vernacular — is moving forward with this less expensive program, based on partial subsidization as opposed to giveaways.

Stated Martha Lane Fox, “Working in partnership is crucial to getting the UK connected and confident with technology, and the E-cycle scheme is just one of the projects being put together by Race Online 2012 partners across the public, private and third sectors.”

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