Aiming to help close the so-called digital divide, the Intel Corp plans to announce a design for a sub-US$400 educational laptop and a five-year, US$1 billion program to train teachers and to extend wireless digital Internet access around the world.
The moves are intended to bolster Intel's reach into new markets, but may also have an effect on the US market for computers in education.
The program was to be announced yesterday at the World Congress on Information Technology, a conference in Austin, Texas, where Intel's chief executive, Paul Otellini, will elaborate on it in a speech today.
The initiative, called World Ahead, comes as Intel, the No. 1 chip maker, is embarking on what it says will be a US$1 billion revamping program in the face of declining market share and a lagging share price. It will roughly double what Intel is spending annually on training and technology support in places lagging in digital development, Otellini said in a telephone interview on Monday.
The company plans to support the computer training of 10 million teachers around the world. It has already financed the training of 3 million, he said.
He distinguished Intel's efforts from other campaigns with similar aims by saying Intel would focus on full-featured computer systems with enough power and memory to run Microsoft software.
Intel's rival, Advanced Micro Devices, has backed the concept of reaching half of the world's population with inexpensive personal computers by 2015, and Nicholas Negroponte, a co-founder of the Media Lab at the MIT, has been designing a sub-US$100 notebook computer for educational use in developing nations.
Those machines have been designed to run either open-source software or a subset of the complete version of Microsoft's standard desktop software.
The new Intel design, to be called Eduwise, will include software for the classroom. Makers of the computer are to be named later.
Otellini dismissed the possibility that the emergence of such low-cost computers might cannibalize existing markets, saying that low-end portable computers were already close to these prices in the US.
Negroponte, whose machine will have a handle, a hand crank and an innovative screen, is in discussions with Brazil, China, Egypt, Thailand and South Africa to purchase millions of the notebooks.
He said that the Intel program was a step forward, but that focusing efforts on training teachers had serious drawbacks.
"Anything is better than nothing," he said, "but teacher training is the slowest way to improve global education and reaches very few rural, remote teachers in very poor places."