February 28, 2007 4:00 AM PST
Two visions for delivering PCs to emerging nations
(continued from previous page)
In the West African nation of Mali, a former local Geekcorps intern named Moussa Kita has formed his own IT firm, called Zirsun. Kita only has around four employees.
"But in Mali that's a midsize business, and they are working on projects across West Africa," Vota says. "We try to import as little as possible."
He said, she said
Negroponte, for his part, says the jobs that local PC manufacturing can provide are somewhat illusory, particularly if the cost of hardware goes up.
"Every country I visit, bar none, even the small ones, ask if they can build the XO in their country. My reply is in two parts. One, yes, if you will accept the price going up. Two, if you understand that this is really assembly and that assembly jobs are both few and not great jobs," he wrote. "The only justification to build the XO in each country is national pride--which is certainly important. Otherwise, local manufacturing does not affect economics as all the parts are (imported) anyway."
Negroponte added that the two groups are in some ways targeting two separate demographic groups. The chipmakers are mostly reaching out to the so-called next billion users, or the villages and urban centers that are poor but have experienced some of the benefits of economic growth in places like China and India.
"We really want to bring the XO laptop to the poorest and most-remote kids, for whom school is often a tree and whose teachers may not even show up," he wrote. "It is about learning. It is a long-term investment in young children who will not be in the job market for 5 to 10 years at least. Teaching 6-year-olds Excel is criminal."
Intel's Davies and Via's Brown, though, stated that any cost benefits under the OLPC vision, in the end, won't be large at all. The OLPC laptop is made out of the same components as a PC, and will rely on the same sort of back-end servers and wireless antennas. Davies, in fact, doubted that the OLPC will hit its goal of $150.
"We know what LCD monitors cost," Davies said.
Local PC manufacturing is also growing alongside national and regional initiatives to increase PC ownership. Sri Lanka, for instance, has relaxed value added taxes and duties to make it cheaper to import computers while some banks in Turkey are offering zero-interest loans for PC purchases, noted Davies. In Brazil, Banco Santander Central Hispano, a large local bank, is offering zero-interest loans to students for PCs if they open accounts, Davies said.
"It's actually a cheaper way to acquire a customer," he said.
And learning business applications isn't generally viewed as bad among educators in emerging markets, Davies said. Often, it's what they want to teach kids.
12 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment