Free broadband for every child

Posted on Wed 24 September 2008 in misc

I'll stick to the geek topics in Chairman Brown's speech to conference yesterday. The issue of broadband poverty is a uniquely western problem in an age where we have mostly* solved the problems of feeding, housing and medical care for the population. However as more and more things become available at the click of a mouse people without access to the 'net start to be put at a disadvantage. It is a laudable aim with which I can broadly support.

The difference as ever is in the manner of execution. I suspect** the governments approach will be to means test every applicant first. Assuming the government is still in Redmond's pockets a significant cost of the basic net machine will be for software that will further entrench the desktop monopoly. Then there is the matter of the actual net connection itself which I suspect will become a guaranteed government revenue stream for another near-monopoly, BT.

There is, as has already been suggested, a better way to approach the problem. The concept of Municipal WiFi has been around for a while although it has often butted heads with the vested interests of the telecoms companies. By providing blanket base level broadband you skip the tedious "cost-saving" accounting, enable quick mass adoption and force the telecoms companies to differentiate their services from what you can get for free. The only remaining problem is getting computers into the hands of those who still don't have them. There are many solutions to this. I know of homeless charities that teach their residents about computers by getting them to re-furbish donated computer equipment. There is a new class of Netbook computers which are already pushing into the sub £200 range and are only going to get cheaper. It's a problem that really would benefit from diversity of supply rather than central mandate. One thing we do not have in this country is a lack of computer hardware.

I wonder which approach the government will take?

* Yes we still have problems but we often forgot exactly how good we have it compared to the rest of the world
** I don't know, as usual these sort of announcements are very light on actual detail although often heavy on deja vu.
UPDATE: I hadn't fully read the Guardian article in my rush to find something to link to. I'd watched the speech live and the BBC didn't seem to report it in much detail. The Guardian article does contain a little more detail on how the system is to work.