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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 Portugal is manufacturing these locally?

Barrett: There's a private Portuguese company that's basically manufacturing off the reference design. I thought their approach was very smart. They want every kid to have a PC but decided not to give them all away. They subsidized them on the basis of parental income so there's a sense of ownership. Poor kids get them fully subsidized, medium-income kids pay part of the cost, and well-to-do families buy them. It's produced locally, so it creates economic development with the production and service contracts.

IDGNS: A lot of people say the next few billion people on the planet will experience the Internet through a cell phone or some other device, not a PC. Where does that leave Intel? Do you become less relevant or will you start making wireless chips for cell phones?

Barrett: Clearly the Atom processor and small form-factor devices like netbooks and MIDs [mobile Internet devices] are in that direction. And by the way, I don't necessarily agree with the question. There are three interesting form factors that will continue to exist -- the big screen of the TV, the interactive screen of the PC, and the small screen of simple, limited information-access devices. I see those three screens continuing to exist throughout the world. It's hard to say PCs won't be heavily used in poor countries when you see over 300 million Internet users in China.

IDGNS: How will an MID improve the life of a poor farmer or fisherman?

Barrett: It depends how they use it. If you travel to central China today or even parts of India and see farmers with PCs -- these are standard desktops or laptops -- they're using them to get information about weather and fertilizer and how to be more productive growing their crops, and how to bypass the middleman and sell their crops at the best possible price. They're using them to increase their standard of living by being more productive. The key thing is that it's all local content produced in the local language.

If you drop existing technology into a lot of places in the world today you can create phenomenal results. We've done a couple of examples of this in the Amazon and Brazil, and remote Chinese and Lebanese villages. If you train some teachers and put a broadband connection and some computers in, you can change kids' lives overnight, it's dramatic.

IDGNS: But how do you scale that to reach a significant portion of the developing world?

Barrett: Our role is not to be the volume implementer, it's to say here's what you can do, now you local governments and local people need to take this and run with it. When we went to Parantins in the Amazon, we dropped in a satellite link, put up a WiMax tower and connected some community centers and schools. Then we went to the president of Brazil and his ministers and said, "Look, it's none of our business but we showed you what can happen. It's now up to you."

 

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