Equal Opportunity via Cheap Laptops...
For quite a few years now there has been a new movement emerging whose mission is to create computers affordable enough to allow underprivileged children and adults to participate in the Digital Economy. Make no mistake, this is not a matter of some corporation seeking to reduce prices in order to sell more goods and make higher profits. It is a true movement intended to help the world's poor and empower them in the Internet Age.
Matthew Elliot reports that the cheapest laptop in the world has just been made available - the Medison Celebrity laptop costs only $150 and is available through online reseller 2Checkout.com. And, yes, it's actually functional - an Intel 1.5 Ghz processor, 40 GB hard drive, 256 MB of RAM, etc. Heck that's better than the laptop I've been using for years to teach computer science! The reason it can be sold so cheaply is because it uses the free Linux operating system instead of Microsoft Windows. Along a similar vein, Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC sells for $175, and Intel's Classmate PC is expected to go for $200.
Furthermore, these laptops not only come WiFi-enabled, but in some cases a portion of the proceeds actually goes toward building a WiFi infrastructure in developing nations. I've also heard that when somebody from the developed world buys one of these machines, fully half of the proceeds actually go towards buying another machine for someone in the Third World. That's your classic 2-for-the-price-of-1 deal, only some African fellow gets your free one.
Sure, people in the Third World have more immediate concerns than obtaining a laptop - food, water, and shelter come to mind pretty quick - and skeptics are always plenty eager to point that out. Nevertheless, these programs are well-intentioned and should be commended for being as such. The equal opportunity that the Internet provides only exists for those who have access to it, after all.
Which raises two questions: 1) Why aren't we pursuing a universal broadband access program in the United States, to foster equal opportunity here as well?, and 2) If it's economically feasible to create a $150 laptop, then why hasn't some firm jumped at the chance to mass market them and gain a tremendous comparative advantage?