By Max Clarke

A pilot scheme to help people who are new to technology purchase their own computer and internet connection is being launched today by Remploy, the UK’s leading provider of specialist employment services for disabled people.

The ‘E-cycle’ project is part of Remploy’s commitment to Race Online 2012 and aims to help bring UK Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox’s vision for a Networked Nation to life by offering a low cost hardware and connectivity solution.

Working with UK online centres, a network which specialises in getting people started online, the ‘E-cycle’ project aims to help new computer and internet users get connected at home and make the web more accessible for everyone.

There are 9.2 million adults in the UK who are currently offline. 4 million of this group are also socially and economically disadvantaged. All of them are missing out on the many benefits, employment opportunities and cost savings that the web can offer. For those who do take their first steps online the process of then purchasing their own computer and first internet connection can be both confusing and expensive.

The Remploy ‘E-cycle’ scheme uses refurbished computers, and will provide customers with low cost machines and special internet deals to get them started at home quickly, easily and affordably. The ‘E-cycle’ website is a simple portal designed to be easy for new internet users to navigate, and will offer various cost and connectivity options which allow the purchaser to choose a package and payment method to suit them.

Prices will start from £98 for a PC with a Flat Screen Monitor, Mouse and keyboard including operating system and Office package with warranty, telephone support and delivery. Connectivity is provided by Three mobile — also a Race Online 2012 partner - with one month available for just £9, or three months for £18. People will be able to pay online, or pay off-line using Payzone, which allows cash payment at more than 20,000 sites including local convenience stores, garages and Post Offices.

The E-cycle pilot will test take-up, fulfilment and the usability of the new website with target consumers. Around 60 UK online centres across the country will be taking part in the trial, and encouraging people who want to buy their own computer to try economic e-cycling instead of splashing cash on new equipment.

While 200 computer packages have been set aside for the pilot, over the course of the next 12 months around 8000 consumers are expected to take up the Remploy offer. People will be able to get additional support by phone and email from Positive IT solutions, who can help with set up problems and troubleshooting. As well as making IT affordable, the scheme also has a Green IT message - giving a computer a second life is the equivalent of taking two cars off the road for one year.

Tim Matthews, Remploy’s Chief Executive said: “Being connected to the internet brings so many benefits that it must be right to make computers and internet connections more affordable for people who don’t own their own PC.

Remploy is delighted to be working with Race Online 2012 and UK online centres to extend computer ownership and internet use.”

UK Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox said ‘Working in partnership is crucial to getting the UK connected and confident with technology, and the E-cycle scheme is just one of the projects being put together by Race Online 2012 partners across the public, private and third sectors. I am excited about the possibilities this low-cost pilot scheme presents for the many people in the UK who so far have simply not been able to afford to get online’.

UK online centres Managing Director Helen Milner added: “Although research shows going online can save people around £560 year, we know the cost of setting yourself up at home is still a real barrier for lots of people. Remploy E-cycle provides another economically and environmentally friendly option for first time buyers — and it’s designed specifically for those new to the internet. I’m looking forward to seeing the pilot progress over the coming weeks and months, and seeing more people get more out of life online as a result.”