Monday, May 8, 2006

Intel Corp. is pledging to invest $1 billion over five years to help provide broader access to technology and educational resources in developing countries.

The big U.S. chip maker said the program, called World Ahead, combines projects the company has funded previously with new activities — all aimed at giving people in developing countries more access to computers and the Internet.

Intel’s announcement continues a string of initiatives from other large and small companies — including rival chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. — that are experimenting with profit-making plans to bring inexpensive hardware and Internet connections to underdeveloped regions.

Besides playing a positive role in economic development, technology companies believe that underdeveloped nations provide greater revenue-growth possibilities than countries that have had computers for decades.

“This clearly is viewed by us as being good for the world and for Intel,” says Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief executive. “There is a solid commercial payoff for it.”

Mr. Otellini plans to discuss the program during a speech tomorrow at the World Congress on Information Technology in Austin, Texas. Companies and government officials are expected to discuss other efforts to bridge the global technology divide during the event.

Intel of Santa Clara, Calif., said the program has three primary goals:? to design affordable computers that are tailored to needs of developing regions; to make high-speed Internet access more ubiquitous, in some cases through use of a wireless technology called WiMAX, and to provide training to teachers and students on the use of information technology.

One distinguishing feature of Intel’s approach is its preference for “full-featured” computer systems, with a hard drive and a relatively sophisticated microprocessor chip — the company’s specialty. Where Intel is working with government and telecommunications companies to design systems that would start at around $300 each, other companies and researchers have proposed simpler PCs or terminals that would cost considerably less.

Intel in March unveiled a prototype PC that is designed for use in India, where heat, dust and humidity can cause reliability problems. The PC can run on alternate power sources, including a car battery, the company said.

Mr. Otellini said that during his conference speech, he will be demonstrating another prototype of a full-featured notebook computer expected to cost less than $400. He said a reference design for the device, which could be turned into a commercial product by PC makers, is expected to be ready in the first half of 2007.

As part of World Ahead, Intel said it plans to donate 100,000 PCs for use in classrooms in developing nations. The company had already been spending about $100 million a year on educational programs, Mr. Otellini said. The company has trained about three million teachers so far in the use of technology, and plans to train 10 million more over five years as part of the World Ahead program.

Source: Wall Street Journal