The government will today launch its biggest ever social experiment, providing thousands of families with free computers.

The 'wired-up communities' project will give households and schools from some less well-off areas across the country previously unavailable access to the internet.

A range of broadband and analogue modem connections, satellite links, digital television and PCs are among the services to be provided free of charge.

East Manchester, Blackburn, parts of Cumbria, South Yorkshire and East London are some of the areas set to benefit from the scheme.

"There is a gulf emerging between those that have access to new technologies and those that do not," said Michael Wills, learning and technology minister. "[It is] a gap that must be narrowed if we are to create a fair and prosperous society."

Costing in the region of £10m, the scheme aims to narrow the digital divide between professional and unskilled families.

Once connected families involved in the project will receive online training on how to use the internet and general PC guidance. A special website has been set up for information on learning and jobs.

The government will then analyse the results of this mass research project.