By: MarkJ - 11 January, 2010 (7:55 AM)
A New Year rarely means new announcements and that's exactly what we're seeing with today's big news - the 2nd re-announcement of that £300m 'Broadband for All' scheme since September 2008 (original news). The project will give a grant of £500 to children from 270,000 low income families (less than £16,040 per year), allowing them to select an approved computer. This will also include a free 12 month broadband Internet access subscription.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will tell an international education forum in Westminster today:

"We want every family to become a broadband family, and we want every home linked to a school. For those finding it difficult to afford this ... I can announce the nationwide rollout of our home access programme to get laptops and broadband at home for 270,000 families. It will mean all families can come together, learn together and reap rewards together."

The rollout, which will begin in March 2011 (so expect a 3rd re-announcement in the future), follows several February 2009 trials with 20,000 disadvantaged families in Suffolk and Oldham; we assume this was deemed a success. It's understood that the scheme will initially be offered to children aged between 7 and 13.

However it is unclear how the government has chosen to handle its selection of pre-approved broadband ISPs. The 12-month subscription makes no mention of speeds, usage allowances, supplier choices or in fact anything of real meat. These are all critical since a service with too many restrictions wouldn't be of much use.

Then there is the small matter of a looming general election and the affordability of doing all of this while the country still has a mountain of debt to pay-off. Labour look unlikely to get re-elected and a Conservative government might place many such schemes under review, though their position on this particular one is not clear.

UPDATE January 12th

Press statement from TalkTalk:

"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."

We'd continue to disagree with TalkTalk's mistaken attempt to brand people in rural areas as being "relatively well-off"; relative to what? Having lived in several such locations myself I can safely say that such a perception is usually incorrect.

Perhaps they've been watching too many episodes of Pride and Prejudice and don't recognise that such a society died out long ago. In fact many rural areas now have to survive on lower incomes, lack basic facilities; the pubs are closing, post offices shutting, there’s no real ISP competition and so forth. Today money is found in the towns, not the countryside.

Not that I want to belittle any of TalkTalk's other and quite fair points, just their perception of rural life as a whipping boy or the apparent notion that it should somehow be treated as an alien landscape that's best avoided.
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