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€1-a-day web service to fight French digital divide

PC and broadband access for poorest citizens

France plans to offer 1.2 million of the country's poorest citizens a computer with broadband internet access for a daily fee of €1 (about £0.70), to ensure that they have access to the increasing number of government services available online.

The French government has set ambitious targets for making public services available over the internet, but is concerned that almost half the population still lacks regular access to the internet. Just over half of French households now have a PC, and 38 percent of households have internet access, more than 10 million of them with broadband. Including those who use it at work, over half of all French citizens regularly use the internet, according to government figures. However, the proportion of those online is much lower among the elderly and the poor – often those most in need of state-provided services.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced the €1-a-day plan after today's meeting of the Interministerial Committee for the Information Society, which proposed the idea.

Service providers will be encouraged to offer bundles consisting of a low-cost PC with software for web browsing, security and productivity, home tuition for those that need it and a broadband internet connection at a tariff equivalent to €15 (£10) a month or less, all on a three-year contract. The government will guarantee the price of €1 a day for the poorest segment of the population, probably using the same selection criteria as a project that offers electricity at a special 'basic needs' tariff.

The price of €1 a day is highly symbolic: other projects offer young people the chance to take lessons and pass their driving test for €1 a day, while in 2004 the government sponsored a project to offer university students a laptop for €1 a day. That project will continue, the government announced, with the goal of getting laptops into the hands of 35 percent of students. Between September 2004 and September 2005, the proportion of students with laptops rose from 8 to 22 percent, according to the government delegation on internet use.

At the same meeting, the government agreed on plans to make it easier for rural inhabitants to get broadband internet access, by supporting the rollout of Wimax wireless services where low population density makes the provision of DSL (digital subscriber line) service uneconomic.

The government also pledged its support for an antispam group, Signal Spam, which launched a public information site yesterday. Later this year, the group will begin operating a service for reporting unsolicited commercial email.


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