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Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Intel spreads computer literacy

MISSION John McClure, the man in charge of an effort to give computers to India's 650,000 villages, says the project is good for business

AFP , JAIPUR, INDIA

Intel Corporation chairman Craig Barrett, left, and his wife Barbara watch Arti Gunde, 13, wearing a red dress, her cousin Sakshi and uncle Santosh use a computer at her home in Pimpli village, India, on Nov. 2 last year. Barrett was touring the small town in western India to explore how the US chipmaker could help in advancing efforts to empower unemployed youth and farmers with the help of information technology.

PHOTO: AP

Intel marketing veteran John McClure likes to tell the story of an unschooled Indian farmer who wanted to catch and store rain to water his crops but didn't know how to go about it.

The farmer's daughter figured out a way by researching the subject at an Internet-equipped community center in their village after school hours and helped him design a "rain-harvesting solution," he said.

That's a simple example of how technology can improve the lives of the 700 million mostly illiterate people who live in India's vast hinterland, McClure said.

The executive is at the helm of an Intel effort to take computers to the country's 650,000 villages.

"We are focused on getting as deep inside India as possible," the South Asia marketing director said in an interview in the northern Indian desert city of Jaipur.

"It's a frontier we do want to conquer while not missing anything in between," added the 38-year-old.

The world's largest microchipmaker, whose products power eight out of 10 computers sold globally, has tied up with state governments and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) in a program to spread computer literacy in the countryside.

support

Intel, which also unveiled a portable personal computer designed for school children Saturday, will provide technology support, educational content and wireless connectivity to 100,000 rural community centers over the next year.

It will also help lay a broadband network across rural India and develop local-language Internet content.

But the rural push is not driven by a sense of charity.

Intel is betting that children in the villages who experience first-hand the benefits of technology will buy a computer when they grow up and take up a job or go into business.

"There's an altruistic element to it but there's also a business element," McClure said. "By investing in these areas -- maybe ahead of the curve -- we will pull more users into the PC purchasing market faster."

India's villages are home to 70 percent of its billion-plus population, yet their contribution to national economic output has declined over the past two decades to as low as 20 percent from more than half.

countryside

The countryside is yet to receive its share of the dividend from an investment, spending and technology-led economic boom that has produced nine percent growth rates for each of the past three years.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party-led government, which came to power in 2004, is trying to change that by pumping money into rural infrastructure and boosting bank loans.

"To address inclusive growth is incredibly important for the Indian economy to keep growing at a healthy clip," McClure said. "Making technology available in rural areas is a critical element of that."

loans

ICICI Bank, India's largest private bank, is giving computer loans to customers identified by Intel's dealerships while it expands lending in the countryside.

Vijay Chandok, a senior ICICI executive responsible for financing small and medium businesses, said that his clients are benefitting from economic growth and depending on technology to boost their prospects.

"The small guy needs technology to make his business easier, faster and more efficient," Chandok said. "Equipment finance is a key proposition here."

base

India's installed computer base is just 30 million, small for the second-most populous nation in a world where 1 billion PCs have been sold, said R. Ravichandran, South Asia sales director at Intel.

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