Letter: Net access

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The Independent Culture
Letter:

Net access

Sir: John A Mottram (letter, 19 August) dismisses as "downright silly" findings highlighting social inequalities in Internet access, noted in my report ("Internet's global reach is not at all utopian, 17 August). But he is naive to claim that differences in Net use simply mirror differences in income: all the evidence suggests a more complex interaction of cultural, geographical, institutional and economic factors.

He also seems to believe that online access is only more expensive in Africa than the US relative to per capita income. That would indeed be stating the obvious, but it's not true: the studies I quoted show a huge difference in absolute terms too. This may not matter to Mr Mottram, who sees the Net as "just another consumer good" like beer or cigarettes. But it matters greatly for Africa, where that cost is borne in part by aid agencies funding Internet projects.

As the Panos Institute warns, donors smitten with the glamour of cyberspace may be tempted to pour money into the Net instead of, for example, improving the supply of safe water. That is a risk deserving more serious treatment than Mr Mottram's mixture of weary cynicism and confused logic.

OLIVER BURKEMAN

York

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