May 31, 2007 By Blake Harris
Attempting to introduce the next billion people to the digital world through its World Ahead program, Intel has committed $1 billion in the next five years to speed access to uncompromised technology and education for people in developing communities. The program intends to extend broadband and PC access 1 billion worldwide users while training 10 million teachers on technology use in education, with the possibility of reaching another billion students. Digital Communities spoke with John Davies, vice president of World Ahead, about the dynamics of this important initiative.
Q: The program's stated aim is to bring technology to the next billion people.
A: Yes, the program is to connect the next billion. The way we do that is to bring out the latest technology all around the world at the same time. The best example I can give you of one of the next connection technologies is WiMAX. You see a lot of information about Sprint and Clearwire in the U.S., but I think the reality is that it is being adopted in the emerging markets just as quickly, and in fact more quickly in some cases, such as Pakistan, South Africa, Vietnam, Chile and Brazil.The The reason is that the connections just don't exist there. So why not use the newest technology, particularly if it is the best broadband connection and it's wireless? In other words, you aren't encumbered by existing infrastructure.
That's the leap-frog effect we're seeing in many areas of the world: jumping ahead to the latest technology rather than having to go through the same evolution we have undergone. Plus, these developing areas don't get hung up on what's already there.
Yes, we've seen that in cell phones. But to give you the high-level overview of the World Ahead program -- I'll give you a few bullets. There are four areas we focus on. I don't think you'll find another company in the world that focuses on all four of these pillars. That is one reason why we have a unique angle, but it also becomes a unique responsibility as well.
The first [pillar] is the devices, the appliances. They can just as well be regular PCs. But we also have the Classmate [a budget laptop] for the emerging market. The cost is down to $300 now, and it will get down to about $200 by the end of the year. As a device, that starts to get very interesting. We are going to pilot them in 30 countries this year. I've got it in many of them already.
The second pillar is connection. For this, you have to work with the telecom companies, the cable companies and anyone who adds connectivity.
The third pillar is education. People have to be educated to use the device or to use it for the functions that they need it for. Perhaps the best example I can give is that we've trained more than 4 million teachers so they can use a PC for teaching kids. That's a very large number of teachers. And we've agreed to train 10 million teachers over the next five years. This is so a teacher cannot just use a PC personally, but [he or she] can use it for training kids in school. We've actually had that program going since the late '90s.
Another example is community centers in places like Vietnam, China and India. We're working on using the community centers of the governments to train farmers so they can sell their crops for the going market prices instead of getting ripped off because they don't know what the going prices of their crops are. It might seem crazy for a rural farmer to have a PC, but if you are getting paid $1 a bushel for your crops
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.