BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Friday, 14 July, 2000, 09:18 GMT 10:18 UK
Internet: Toy of the rich?
Is the internet for the rich only? Join the debate
The less well off are still not getting access to the internet according to the latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics.

For the period 1999 to 2000 the level of home access for many people on low incomes ranged from around 3% to 6%.

The levels increased rapidly to 48% for people on higher salaries.

Despite government ambitions to make the UK a leader in internet access the figures suggest there is still much to be done.

So is the internet still the toy of the rich? Or can we do more to open up the net to everyone?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Are the chattering classes ready for the impact that will be made when access to knowledge becomes really widespread?

Maggie Gebbett, UK
Okay, those with higher incomes may have home access to the Internet but you don't have to be rich to have access. We serve some of the most socially excluded people in society and they love the Internet. Our tenants can get online at cybercafes, come to our free Internet courses and get access to free computers. Only 5% may have home access but as a housing association, we are crusading for Internet access for our residents. Roll on the low cost computers and free calls to the Internet that will really bridge the digital divide. Knowledge is power but are the chattering classes ready for the impact that will be made when access to knowledge becomes really widespread?
Maggie Gebbett, UK

Give it ten years and the Internet will be as popular as CB Radio is now. The whole thing is a passing fad with maybe the exception of e-mail.
Rick, England

I am a software engineer in India and I have never seen an Internet boom like the one I have seen in the last 2 years. The current hourly Internet rate is 15 rupees ($0.4 approx), which is affordable for almost anyone in India.
Prasad Kothare, India

All over the tube network in London are adverts proclaiming "6 hours of surfing for one pound". If people are genuinely so hard up they can't afford 1 ($1.50 for our US friends) for more surfing than I could cope with at one time, perhaps the internet shouldn't be their top priority. Mind you, given the number of jobsearch websites it would be 1 well spent.
John B, UK

How much do lower income people spend at their local pubs each week? How many of them have satellite televisions?

Jeremy, UK/USA
How much do lower income people spend at their local pubs each week? How many of them have satellite televisions? The last time I visited South Wales I noticed to my amazement that the majority of homes with satellite dishes attached to them were in lower income areas and that the pubs in those areas were usually crowded most nights of the week. No wonder they can't afford computers or internet access.
Jeremy, UK/USA

All public libraries and schools in this country have free Internet access. But if the poor won't go to school, or use the libraries, they will continue to be excluded.
Rob Bower, USA

There is a danger that the web will become a complete waste of time. There is so much rubbish on it, ever since it was opened up from academic circles, that finding information is painstaking and tedious. The web is only really useful for those who really do need to share information with a wide audience. For anything else, read a book!
Dr Jon B, Sweden

Many express selfish, mean-spirited, reactionary views

Stella, UK
A quick scan through the comments so far and what do we notice? Many express selfish, mean-spirited, reactionary views and display a one-dimensional ignorance of the lives of people much poorer than themselves. They're also all from men - so much for the liberating influence of the Net. Maybe they need to spend a little less time in front of a screen and start to be a little bit more concerned about the growing inequalities in this country.
Stella, UK

It seems ironic that such a discussion topic should be hosted on the internet, where those who are classed "poor" cannot access it, and therefore not have their say.
Judith, UK

Although previously computer illiterate and not particularly well-off, my Mother was able to buy an internet-ready PC for less than 100 second hand that is just as quick and easy to use as newer models. This is a lesson to technophobes and the less well off, not to be scared of the technology or the costs involved. As other people have written, the costs will come down in the future as well.
Peter, UK

The reason the poor don't access the Net is not really about money - most can afford the equipment. It's about education. IT literacy is mainly confined to the "professional" classes. Other than handing out PCs with free lessons, the only way to get through this is putting general IT skills at the heart of GCSE level education, and feeding the skills from the bottom. Fear of technology puts most people of working age but not working with computers off, not poverty.
Ed Jakeman, UK

Technology is a toy of the wealthy. Only when we make it profitable to share technologies of all types, will we progress as one world.
Mike, HK SAR

The Internet is now affordable for all income groups - it's just a question of priorities

Kenyon, UK/ France
It would be interesting to know how many of the "low income" households surveyed who could not afford Internet access, already have satellite dishes. The Internet is now affordable for all income groups - it's just a question of priorities.
Kenyon, UK/ France

Let's face it, access to the Internet will never become totally free due to the fact that large corporations have the ability to make money out of people's desire to get online. You can't escape the capitalist society we live in.
Simon, UK

Most people browse the web while they're at work, so the answer seems simple - get a job! Free Internet access is predominantly the privilege of the employed.
Nigel, UK

Is not having Internet access an indication of "poverty"? You should try living in Western China!
Alex Chiang, Australia

The poor DO have access to the Internet. It's called a library, and you can go there for free - at any time - and use it. Why not try picking up some books while you're at it? It's the people who are not poor but not rich that have trouble affording ludicrous phone bills for the net, like myself. I can't get it free at a library, as I have to work for a living. Well, unless I use it at work, of course. Oops!
Sarah, UK

I'm as poor as a church mouse (an independent mature student in the UK - Tony's favourite people) but I'm online and I love it! It's all a case of prioritising your resources - if you want it bad enough you'll afford it.
Steve Knowlson, UK

There are a lot of public access points available in libraries now. Also, with computer prices coming down and completely free internet access available I see no reason why it should not be an information tool to the masses.
M. Loftus, UK

Many children consider it nerdy to just to surf the web

Mark, Germany
It is attitude of mind not how much you have in your wallet. Many less well off choose to spend their money on cigarettes and beer and having a good time rather than spending it on internet access. Many inner city schools have technology at their fingertips but the children are not interested. In the school my daughter attends in the UK, many children consider it nerdy to join even if its just to surf the web. There are so many places to surf nowadays that having the excuse "I have no money" doesn't work anymore.
Mark , Germany

So is the Internet now perceived as the opium of the poor? Get them on-line and their world will be a marvellous place? At the same time people who spend a lot of time on-line are being told it's bad for them. So I guess it probably is to be the opium of the poor then. For what it's worth I get an always-on connection at about 5Mbps for $45 (30 quid?) per month inclusive, perhaps when you can get that in the UK this will not be an issue. If BT don't do it then they will be left out in the cold when others do.
Chris Hann, USA (Brit)

Going to University is expensive, buying a car is expensive, housing is expensive, yet this doesn't put you off.
Cristina G., Italy

The question brought forward only shows how behind England is in the technological race. Here in Japan, also an island country, the same problem is present. It's not that the poor are limited to internet access, but rather the mental barrier that people here in Japan as in England have in embracing the internet! Don't blame it on the poor...
Hernan Lama, Japan

Forego the booze and fags and bob's your uncle

Gordon T., UK
I don't buy into this talk of the less well off in our society being denied access to the internet. I am a middle-aged man of extremely limited means and I have a modest second hand PC and get unlimited telephone access to the net for the monthly cost of a packet of fags and a pint of beer. In other words forego the booze and fags and bob's your uncle - no excluded section of society. Oh and by the way you can always go to your local library and get a hour on the net for a few pounds (even less if you are a student or receiving benefits) - we are hardly talking about technology for the few are we?
Gordon T., UK

Some of the comments are remarkable. Do well-off people really think they'll have to pay for poor people to get internet access? If so, they are deluded. Companies like to make profits, and they don't care out of whom they make them. If the poor of this country don't have net access maybe it is because they have better things to spend their money on, like food and rent? No-one will, or should, subsidise on-line costs for others. It is a fact that companies will end up making the internet cheap to access so they CAN get the money of the people who cannot afford large phone bills.
Jon Anderson, UK

"Poor" people are left out of many things in the UK. The class divide has taken care of this. So why is the internet an issue? For those "poor" it is much more important to survive very high living standards and robbery petrol prices. They will certainly not give a damn about the internet as that will have no priority. The law of the richest applies again and the richer will get richer (internet being yet another resource) and the poor are getting poorer.
Han de Min, Netherlands

Re: Tom, UK.
It's not a case of the poor not having an interest in the internet, it's a case of the poor being left out. Many people have access to the net via internet cafes etc. but they are expensive for a lot of people to use regularly. The reality is that having access to, and an interest in technology and science (as Tom, UK appears to), evidently does not mean an above average IQ.
Pat Jennings, UK

It's not about money but about priorities.

James Elston, UK
You can get an entry level PC with modem for 400 or less. I am with a FREE ISP with no subscription fees and no internet telephone bill! Many "poorer" families splash out hundreds of pounds on games consoles for their children. It's not about money but about priorities.
James Elston, UK

The WWW was conceived and created in the 1960's in it's original form. As it is today with high levels of access it is the greatest communication revolution since printing. If this doesn't inspire interest and the desire to go online, NOTHING will! You don't have to be rich these days to get online and use the web. The phone companies are getting savvy and costs for connection to an ISP will come down.
Dr Nick Ashley, England

The Internet is expensive? Compared to what? I can't speak of the prices in the UK but here in Washington DC, you can purchase several hours worth of Internet access for considerably less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes. This issue is what we call a non-starter. So what if internet time is not a priority for some, nothing should be done about that.
Cara Pellicano, USA

When we get telephone access charged at local call rates for each session, it will make it a much more level playing field

G. Drost, UK
When we get telephone access charged at local call rates for each session, it will make it a much more level playing field. Presently, you have to subscribe to a provider to gain such access for a monthly fee, which by many standards is still expensive. It is time the phone companies gave the ordinary user this facility. They still make a fortune just through line rental and other services to businesses.
G. Drost, UK

It's not a case of the poor being left out. It is a case of the poor not having an interest in the Internet. Many people have access to the net via net cafes etc. They are inexpensive and there are plenty of people to assist in getting started. The reality is that the majority of people who are poor are also uninterested in technology, science or anything other than soap operas on TV. It all comes down to a lower than average IQ.
Tom, UK

The question is not whether should we make the Internet more accessible, it is rather, how can we do it for poorer people? We must do all that we can to provide everyone with access to computers. The poor are no exception.
Yue Sern Mok, Australia

The Internet is a handy tool, but that is all it is. It is in no way indispensable or a must-have item, but a luxury. There are Internet cafes and lots of schools now have a computer linked to the Internet, so access is available. There are many more deserving causes that would have a more beneficial impact on society.
James Jeffrey, USA, but English

Which poor are we talking about here? The "poor" who can't afford a PC/ satellite dish, or the poor who are denied the basic human rights that we take for granted?
Rich, UK

If the RIP bill actually gets put through, then it won't be a case of the 'have-nets' and 'have-nots' in Britain. It will be a case of "avoid Britain at all costs if you want to us the internet". The government seems to think that it is a small number of misinformed people that oppose the bill and refuse to accept that we are educated, hardworking people who work in the top industries. If the RIP bill goes through the whole subject is academic.
Paul Charters, England

I might be called a semi-working poor person, yet I have access of 250 hours a month on the internet for only $ 295.00 Canadian dollars per year.

R E Patterson , Canada
I might be called a semi-working poor person, yet I have access of 250 hours a month on the internet for only $ 295.00 Canadian dollars per year. A good friend in the UK will visit Canada soon and while he is here he will purchase up to 50 Music CD's that sell for a average of $19.00 CDN each. That is about 7.60 UK pounds each. The reality is that the Pound spent in Canada is one of the strongest currencies, and in the UK the same CD's would cost him around 19 to 23 each. It's a funny old world!
R E Patterson , Canada

Here in the US, a new product called an Internet Adapter (IA) was just unveiled by Oracle. It is something less than a full-blown PC but has the features necessary for internet access. The device has no hard drive but it does have a CD-rom drive and runs Linux. Free internet service comes with the purchase. Now, if we poor folks in the US could just get that kind of deal on medical care we'd complain a lot less.
Len Wilson, US

if the less well off in my area can afford 150 shoes brand, new cars on finance and full satellite/cable packages then surely they can afford internet access. As many of the aforementioned people are heavily subsidised by state benefits then surely a few pound a week would not be so hard to scrape together.
Mike Fahy, England

Lets hope that BT sees the advantages in reducing the cost of ASDL, as well as rolling it out across the UK

Joe Knappett, England
I think that the internet is steadily becoming more accessible to many who never thought they would find themselves using it. Recent results from Which? Online seem to confirm this. Free access via the local library, etc, is beginning to impact on people, who can see the use for finding out information, like some giant library, or for sending e-mail. Lets hope that BT sees the advantages in reducing the cost of ASDL, as well as rolling it out across the UK, so that home-users can get fast access to the net everywhere!
Joe Knappett, England

I agree with several comments, not least the fact that; the people most likely to claim poverty on the subject of internet access are the ones who have the surround sound TV's, with Cable/satellite hook-ups and spend the rest of their not so hard earned money on ciggies and 3 pints of Boddies on a weeknight! Mr Peter B. has a point, however jovially made.
Russ.M, UK/NZ

The government has nothing to do about it. As long as more and more companies are engaging in the ISP business, the cost has to drops. In Hong Kong, ISPs are now offering free internet access in order to fight against each other. It seems the ISPs are actually the ones who are paying for the customers to surf.
Sean KY Lam, Hong Kong

Stop being so selfish! Why shouldn't EVERYONE have FREE access to the internet. The government should make it available in all libraries, community centres, schools, job centres and so on. The "rich" and many of the "poor" will still prefer to browse from the comfort of their own home, and should pay for the privilege. Everyone will benefit, since companies, organisations and the government will be able to assume a wider audience for their information and services. It's an essential step to make the UK lead the information-age. Let's get this country connected!
David F, UK

'Poor' people seem to be able to afford fags, booze, mobiles, satellite TV, videos, designer clothes etc. So I see no reason why they can't afford a computer with a modem as well.
Chris Cowdery, UK

As the net becomes fully commercialised, I don't think access is an issue so much.

Tom, Australia

As the net becomes fully commercialised, I don't think access is an issue so much. Those on lower incomes will probably not be able to afford to subscribe to useful sites. I read a report today on internet access in the US. It seems about a third of the US population do not access the net, mostly those in lower income brackets. The irony being that they pay higher sales tax, on their offline purchases, to offset the revenue loss on tax-free net sales, the latter being enjoyed by the higher earners.
Tom, Australia

Television was originally the toy of the rich and the few but is now widespread. As internet take-up increases hardware and access costs will continue to fall. In the meantime, terminals at, for example, public libraries as suggested by C Lewis, can provide lower income groups with internet access. Ignoring the internet in the future will be akin to ignoring the telephone when it first started to cascade through society.
P Harding, England

The internet is about to go mobile. Most analysts believe (as I do) that your mobile phone will offer MORE internet browsing capabilities than your home PC currently does. With over 50% of the UK population now connected to mobile phone networks, and the "pay as you go" system allowing access via prepaid cards, you really can't plead poverty as a reason not get connected.
Bob, UK

Get your eyes off of my checkbook. I am not interested in paying for anything else in order to make liberals feel good about themselves.

Charles Sviokla, USA

Western society is getting dangerously soft. Have we learned nothing from the deadly failings of Marxist based cultures? How on earth, pray tell, would you make Internet access cheaper for the poor? And why Internet? Why not cable TV or cell phones? You want it, you pay for it. Get your eyes off of my checkbook. I am not interested in paying for anything else in order to make liberals feel good about themselves.
Charles Sviokla, USA

If they want internet access, let them get of their fat behinds and get a job, and pay for it themselves. I don't see why I should pay for other people to surf the web, when I'm at work 14 hours a day, to pay my way.
John McArthur, London, UK

I bet that most of the 'poor' manage to afford a TV set. Internet access costs a similar amount. I think that if people want it, they would find a way to get a few hundred pounds. What is more difficult, is to get the necessary skills to be able to set up a PC and use it. We would be better off spending money on education.
Steve P, UK

Drive past any council estate or other areas of low cost housing and you will come across the highest concentration of TV satellite dishes. Cable and satellite will increasingly become a cheap method of accessing the net without the cost of buying a computer. New Labour have already increased benefits and targeted the married persons allowance towards child benefit. At the end of the day, how we spend our money, is a matter of personal choice.
John, UK

Considering that you can connect to the Internet at school, college, university, work, home and at internet cafes in many high streets, I think that internet access is pretty easy. Prices will eventually come down even further, but even at current prices it is as affordable as a pint of beer a week.
Paul R, UK

Net access is cheap. If you can afford a TV, you can afford to get on the net.

Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

Net access is cheap. If you can afford a TV, you can afford to get on the net. Slot-meter-operated Internet- terminals in post-offices, job centres and council-offices might be an idea worth pursuing, it could be a good revenue-raiser for those businesses.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

Whinge whine whine moan. It's not fair. Internet access is cheap. Computers are increasingly cheap. It is simply not right to subsidise everything to the point that poor people can afford it, when the rich have to pay full price for it as this defeats the point of working in the first place. The people who complain most about the cost are usually the ones that spend thousands every year on booze and fags.
Peter B, UK

The net will be needed to do anything soon in the future. Libraries should have internet terminals for people to use with library cards etc. Maybe 'net centres' like libraries could be established?
Lewis C, UK

I could not afford to spend so much time on the Internet were it not for the favourable telephone rates here which allow us an unlimited number of local phone calls at a very reasonable price. Some areas here do not have such an advantage and consequently their time on the net is very limited or none at all. This seems to be the case in other parts of the world which also does not accord such pricing to surfers. The solution, of course, therefore rests with the phone companies to provide reasonable rates. Some Internet Service Providers both here and abroad are now helping - thanks to competition - by providing fee-free access. I applaud this as I believe the Internet is the greatest contributor to mankind's improvement by giving us the ability to circumvent censors and those traditionally in control of our minds.
Stephen B, US

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Talking Point stories