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Chile's government has launched a wide-ranging programme to increase the use of computers and boost the role of information technology (IT) in the country's economy.

As part of the initiative, the government aims to establish fast Internet connections in all universities, and at least 80 per cent of schools, by 2006.

The Digital Agenda initiative, which aims to transform Chile into a digital country by the year 2010, will seek to attract foreign investment into the country's technology sector in order to promote IT development.

It also includes projects to increase Internet access, improve computer training, and develop e-commerce activities. As part of the initiative, the country's laws and regulations on new technologies will be revised to make each of these goals easier to achieve.

In addition, at least one million people will be trained in digital technologies in the next two years. And to increase the number of homes with Internet access, the initiative will reduce the price of computers and broadband services.

At the official launch of the initiative, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said that increasing the use of computers and boosting Chile's IT sector would help to enrich the country's economy and reduce social exclusion.

Chile has an advanced telecommunications infrastructure and is one of Latin America's most stable economies. But the extent of computer usage and the development of the IT industry are low.

A report released earlier this year by the Santiago Chamber of Commerce shows that the IT sector represents just 1.2 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), well below the 3.5 per cent of GDP invested by industrialised nations.

Furthermore, the report shows that although 69 per cent of Chilean companies have email and Internet access, only a quarter have a website and only a tenth use the Internet as a platform for sales.

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