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Barrett says time is right to close digital divide

James Niccolai | Jan. 16, 2009
Craig Barrett has now turned his attention to an even bigger challenge!

IDGNS: So you think there's enough of an economic incentive now to make wiring poor countries attractive to businesses?

Barrett: Sure. China is the biggest cell-phone market and the second-biggest computer market, and it will be the largest in a couple of years. India is following four to five years behind China, and Africa is four to five years behind India. So this is happening everywhere.

IDGNS: What's the biggest obstacle that remains?

Barrett: It's still the educational opportunities for young people. Not only do you have 75 million kids who don't go to school who should, you still have mandatory school ages in some countries that are relatively modest. I'm a firm believer that if you give every young adult an opportunity -- that's education and economic -- the world's going to be a much better place. If you look at the world's hot spots today, they are places where the young population doesn't have any future, any opportunities. So they say what the hell, let's go blow up somebody.

IDGNS: What's the biggest obstacle from a technology standpoint?

Barrett: It's probably to provide the software and solutions these countries need. India has 14 national languages plus thousands of dialects. South Africa has 11 national languages. So there's a huge business opportunity to create content and software in local languages. We just need to get these things stacked up together once you have the infrastructure in place.

IDGNS: How much does it cost to produce one of your Classmate PCs -- I read about $300?

Barrett: It's a couple of hundred dollars, I'm not going to get specific. The "landed cost" to make it and deliver it someplace depends a lot on taxes and tariffs, but the netbooks themselves -- the XO and the Classmate -- are all in that category, two to three hundred dollars.

IDGNS: Is that low enough to deploy them widely in the poorest countries? How low can you get that price?

Barrett: If you look at any of the trends, the costs are going to come down. Look at Portugal, which at the current cost has committed to doing 500,000 Classmate PCs. Venezuela has committed to buying a million. So it's apparently low enough for countries that are relatively low on the economic ladder to make a big investment.

IDGNS: Portugal's a bit better off than Bangladesh.

Barrett: Yes, but the trend is in the right direction; we're down to a few hundred bucks.

IDGNS: How many Classmates do you have in the field today?

Barrett: There are hundreds of thousands of them out. The Portugal deal by itself is 500,000. Venezuela is a million.


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