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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese Firm to Offer Free PCs to Russians

AsiatotalThe "iT" computer would be distributed free — for commercial ends.
A Hong Kong company is hoping to help close Russia's digital divide by distributing free personal computers to those who can't afford them -- and make a profit in the process.

Asiatotal.net has been developing a stripped-down Internet-ready PC for the past six years and hopes to start distributing the first batch of 200,000 computers free of charge in Brazil in the coming months, said Judy Chen, the company's CEO, at a presentation in Moscow on Tuesday.

The eventual target for Brazil is 3 million computers and a similar amount could be distributed in Russia if sponsors can be found, Ricardo de Carvalho of Deloitte Brazil, architect of the project's business plan, said after the presentation.

There are now approximately 7 million PCs in Russia, according to IT consultancy J'son & Partners.

"This is the beginning of the end of the digital divide," said Chen at the start of a hyperbolic presentation, featuring pictures of Third World farmers and impoverished students.

Although the target is those who cannot otherwise afford a computer, the world's poorest communities will be excluded, as a minimum income threshold is envisaged. This will ensure that users form an attractive market for potential sponsors who can buy "hot keys" on the keyboard that send users straight to their web sites. Users will then be able to make payments for goods and services using the included smart-card reader.

The clunky white computers -- dubbed "iT" -- feature a diminutive 18-centimeter screen and can be linked to a television. They are Internet ready, although free Internet access will not be included.

Other areas to be targeted include China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, with all computers adapted for local languages.

Kirill Chistov of Subscribe.ru, which makes its money from Internet advertisements, said the model could work -- but it might be difficult to attract the required sponsorship. Some Russian companies might be willing to pay up to $10 per computer annually to attract users from the targeted demographic to their sites, he said. If Asiatotal.net could attract such companies for each of the 10 buttons, it would earn $500 over the maximum lifespan of the average PC, more than covering the cost of the lowest PCs currently on the market, he said.