Bridging the digital divide

Bridging the digital divide

ON MONDAY, Parliament heard that broadband connections will be made more accessible and affordable for the low-income earners.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said this during the Committee of Supply debate, but no details were provided. An announcement will be made "in due course", he added.

It is heartening to know that more will be done for the low-income. The Infocomm Development Authority's (IDA) more than a decade-old broadband scheme, part of its PC ownership initiative, is certainly in need of an overhaul.

IDA's NEU PC Plus programme offers students from households with a gross monthly income of less than $2,700 the opportunity to own a new computer at a discount of up to 75 per cent.

This means paying as little as $146 for a desktop or $214 for a laptop and three years of broadband access.

IDA also has a broadband-only scheme for students who already own computers but cannot afford broadband subscriptions. They pay only $1.50 monthly for 36 months for a fixed-line or mobile broadband subscription.

The problem is the subsidy can be used only on SingTel's fixed-line ADSL and M1's mobile broadband services and for a plan that offers a surfing speed of 1Mbps tops.

At 1Mbps, users practically cannot multi-task. This means they may be able only to check their e-mail, and not check their e-mail and surf the Web at the same time.

At this speed, the type of websites that they can browse is also limited. For instance, a graphics-heavy website like The Straits Times, BBC or The New York Times may take a minute to download. They can forget about streaming YouTube videos too.

Users may also experience problems entering websites that authenticate users and secure the link. Security software typically slows down access speed. Because of this, a student with only a 1Mbps connection may have difficulty entering a school's secure portal to download assignments.

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