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Brits Bridging Digital Divide With Cheap Linux PCs

Refurbished Linux computers and discounted Internet service are being offered in a bid to make the United Kingdom the world's first fully connected nation.

The British government hopes to bridge the digital divide by making available £98 -- or about $157 -- Linux-based computers to the nation's approximately 9.2 million British adults who remain disconnected from the Internet.

The plan, currently in pilot mode, is being rolled out in conjunction with Remploy, which refurbishes older computers. In addition to a PC, the price includes a flat-screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, delivery, and telephone support, said Martha Lane Fox, founder of and the United Kingdom's digital champion. The group also negotiated a discounted broadband deal with mobile phone operator Three UK. Remploy hopes to distribute 8,000 PCs this year, it said.

"Motivation and inspiration are still two of the biggest barriers [to using the Internet], but clearly perception of price is another big deal for people. A good price point is certainly part of what helps people get online," Lane Fox told the Financial Times. "We have an opportunity here in the U.K. to make sure we are achieving Internet skills and usage as high as TV usage. We should be using our old computers and refurbishing them to close the gap in this country."

The initiative is part of Lane Fox's Race Online 2012, a non-profit organization that aims to make Britain the first nation where everyone can use the Web. Today, Britain has 40 million adult Internet users; 75% of them use the Internet daily, the group said. Of the 9.2 million Britons who do not use the Internet, 38% are unemployed, according to Race Online 2012. In the United States, about 77% of the nation's 310.2 million residents were online in June 2010, according to InternetWorldStats.

"Compared with other technology, [the £98 deal] makes a computer -- that was previously at a similar price to an expensive TV or washing machine -- look a bit more like something a lot cheaper, whether it's a mobile phone or a games console," Lane Fox told the Financial Times.

The Linux-based PC will be available through 60 online centers that provide computer training, as well as via charities. In addition, Race Online is teaming with unions and job centers to raise awareness about the benefits of Internet use: For example, the Internet lets online consumers save £560 -- about $896 -- a year by price-shopping online and more than 350,000 job listings appear solely online, said Race Online.

At a time when many government agencies are trimming services in response to budget constraints, the ability to connect digitally is important, Lane Fox told the Guardian on January 8.

"If we go back to the individual benefits, somebody being online can be empowering. If they're lacking services in other areas it can give them back some of the tools that aren't available from more traditional routes such as online learning, job opportunities, money saving tips," she said. "The net result is that confidence is built, and feelings of isolation go down. Things which might be [affected] by cuts are balanced by getting online.

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