How Intel helps bridge the digital divide

PETALING JAYA: You may know Intel as the company that sells those microprocessors that run nearly all personal computers today but did you know that the company runs a philanthropic programme to get technology into the hands of even more people?

According to John Davies, vice-president and general manager of Intel’s World Ahead Programme, which was launched in 2006, the chipmaker has committed to invest some US$1bil (RM3.4bil) over five years, with the focus on increasing accessibility, connectivity and education globally.

The programme aims to close the “digital divide” between developed countries with high PC penetration rates and the other two-thirds of the people whose countries have less than 3% PC penetration. The divide refers to the technology haves and have-nots.

“We see the programme from a longer term view. There are about 6.5 billion people in the world, with 4 billion having access to cellphones and more, and we think that over time that many people should also have access to computers,” said Davies.

“Who doesn’t need one and who wouldn’t benefit from one in education or jobs or services, even if they share it in the village, library or school?”

The four goals under the programme are: To provide PCs to those who need them; to then give them access to the Internet via broadband; to educate them on the use of PCs; and to provide related content and services in their native language.

As for placing PCs into more hands, one example is Intel’s Classmate PC programme, which has seen some 25,000 of the low-cost netbooks handed out to students in Terengganu last year.

This year alone, 50,000 more Classmate PCs are expected to be handed out in Malaysia, with some 1,000 PCs to be given out to teachers as well.

Intel also works with governments and telecommunications companies to help jumpstart PC ownership programmes that target university students and the underprivileged, amongst others.

One such programme is the recently launched Streamyx Cool Uni Pack where Intel worked with telco giant Telekom Malaysia and the Government to get netbooks into the hands of university students, along with broadband access, for only RM38 a month.

“At least 10 million new computers a year worldwide have been sold or reached people who wouldn’t have been able to get them or afford them, had we not started this programme,” Davies said.

“The beauty of it is volume economics. If you were to buy something for 100,000 people, you would get a much better price than if you just bought one.”

As for the next goal under the World Ahead programme — namely broadband access — Davies said that while WiMAX, which is the chipmaker’s latest focus, has not been adopted in every country yet, Intel’s promotion of the wireless broadband technology has spurred many telcos to push their own wireless technologies, such as 3G, and to lower broadband service prices.

Intel also realises that it’s not enough to just put computers into the hands of students and teachers and to give them access to broadband; training these teachers on how to more effectively use computers and the Web in respect of the school curriculum is also important.

As such, Intel runs education programmes for teachers under its Intel Teach initiative, which aims to do just that. Today, that programme runs in about 60 countries and has trained about seven million teachers on how to better use the PC for education.

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