Barrett targeting next billion users

The developed world needs to help “the next one billion” internet users get connected if it truly wants to help emerging nations improve in the areas of education, healthcare, economic development and electronic governance.

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By  Peter Branton Published  December 23, 2006

The developed world needs to help “the next one billion” internet users get connected if it truly wants to help emerging nations improve in the areas of education, healthcare, economic development and electronic governance. That’s the view of Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, who told IT Weekly in an exclusive interview this month that helping rural communities to better embrace ICT will be essential to achieve this goal. “It is pretty clear that these next one billion users will not be city dwellers, they will be people in the countryside and people in relatively underdeveloped areas of the world,” he claimed. Barrett, who is also chairman of a UN committee for global ICT development, was in a number of countries in the region this month as part of Intel’s World Ahead programme. These included South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Egypt, where Intel has established a WiMax network to connect schools in the small city of Oseem, as well as providing support for a health centre. The trip to the Middle East is just one of a number of such visits Barrett has made globally in recent months, traveling to such places as India, Brazil and China to see how they can improve their usage of technology. While the region has made strong progress in some areas of technology adoption, Barrett said he believes it needs to do more as a whole. “There has been some progress made but there is still a long way to go,” he said. “The IT penetration, number of internet subscribers and [numbers for] broadband connectivity are all still relatively low by world standards.” However, Barrett said he saw some more encouraging signs of technology adoption. “There has been a lot of progress made in the education sectors, we’re starting to see WiMax rolled out in trials, we’re seeing an increase in computer usage and sales,” he said. Especially encouraging, Barrett said, is the increasing amount of content being made available in Arabic “which is clearly of value to this part of the world” he said. “So there is progress being made but there is a long way to go yet,” he added. Countries in the region that have done well on their technology adoption include the more advanced economies of the UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia. In the latter, the oil and gas industry is a strong technology adopter, Barrett said. Intel last year announced ambitious plans to work with the Saudi government to help transform Riyadh into a digital city — covering the city with a WiMax zone (see IT Weekly 19 - 24 November 2005). Barrett said he was “pretty pleased” with the progress of the project, but warned that “there is still a long way to go” on it. One — perhaps surprising — area where Barrett said he sees encouraging adoption of technology is Iraq. “Surprisingly, with all the problems that Iraq has, probably the one thing that you see in Iraq that is probably a vast improvement on what they had before is wireless technology,” he said. Intel had acted in “a consultative standpoint” for a large number of the 200-plus WiMax trials that have taken place in Iraq and has also acted as technical advisor for 40 or 50 commercial implementations that have been rolled out in the country. Barrett also reiterated his support of initiatives to help encourage US businesses to invest more in the rebuilding of war-torn Lebanon: “What we’re trying to do is a variety of things; we want to raise some money to put into Lebanon, but perhaps more importantly we want to impact the environment to create jobs.”

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