Part and parcel of several municipal wireless proposals has been the promise of free PCs and laptops for low-income households. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has raised Internet surfing to the status of civil right, has floated the industry’s most visible free laptop plan as part of his city’s TechConnect program, but the idea has been brought up in other areas, most recently in Oakland County, Mich. To be sure, San Francisco’s heart is in the right place. One imagines the result of such a program being thousands of children in San Francisco’s poorer households gaining the same power to access information as their more well-to-do peers. Single mothers can stay home to care for a sick child yet not give up a day at work because she can now telecommute. Students who can’t afford cars can participate in community college classes on-line. It all sounds great, but has anyone given any serious thought as to how thousands of free PCs will be distributed? Even for the truly needy, I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as going down to a city office, filling out some paperwork, passing a means test, then going home with a factory-fresh laptop.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.