StarMedia to Wire Public Schools in LatAm to Net

MIAMI (05/15/2000) - StarMedia Network Inc. and the Inter-American Development Bank are embarking on a US$1 billion project to wire all elementary public schools in Latin America to the Internet in the next two years, a StarMedia official said on Friday.

"The idea is to get the Internet into kids' hands from Day 1," said Fernando Espuelas, StarMedia's chairman and chief executive officer, during an interview after his keynote at the Latin American Internet and Technology in the 21st Century conference here.

Giving children access to the Internet will have an enormous impact on Latin America's political and economic stability, he said.

"The Internet is an enabler of democracy," he said.

Already, StarMedia has wired 117 schools in high-poverty areas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, he said.

StarMedia and the IADB have put out a welcome mat for any other company or group interested in helping fund the project, Espuelas said. It's important to wire these schools now, in order to help Latin American children bridge the digital divide and prevent them from falling further behind children of other regions, he said.

"(Doing this) two years from now will be too late," Espuelas said, adding that StarMedia is handling this project through a non-profit foundation it launched called the StarMedia Foundation.

It is estimated that there were about 10.6 million Internet users in Latin America in 1999, which amounts to about 2 percent of the region's total population. This figure is expected to rise to 66.6 million in 2005, according to market researcher Jupiter Communications Inc. in New York.

StarMedia, in New York City, can be reached at http://www.starmedia.com/. The IADB, in Washington, DC, can be reached at http://www.iadb.org/.

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