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Intel, the multinational manufacturer of computer parts, announced last week (1 May) that it would spend US$1 billion to increase access to computers and the Internet in developing countries.

Over five years, the World Ahead programme aims to train ten million teachers to use computers and will give 100,000 computers to schools in developing nations.

Intel will also work with public and private companies to introduce wireless Internet access to cities and rural areas.

Paul Otellini, Intel's president and chief executive officer, says the programme will involve tailoring computers to local needs and teaching people how to use them.

The programme will only achieve long-term benefits if it focuses on strengthening infrastructure in the countries involved, says Radhamany Sooryamoorthy of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Unstable electricity supplies and a lack of trained computer technicians can render efforts to increase access to information technologies useless.

Sooryamoorthy, a sociologist who has researched the use of computers in South Africa, says that the share of the US$1 billion that each country will get will be insufficient to build connectivity and increase the number of Internet users.

He is sceptical about Intel's motives and says that the company stands to gain a market advantage in the countries it offers assistance to.

"The mileage Intel is going to gain from these programmes will definitely outweigh the real benefits that will accrue to the users in those countries," he says.

Intel is already working in 52 countries to promote access to affordable computers.

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