Video: Intel welcomed to the jungle

CNBC
updated 9/28/2006 5:47:51 PM ET 2006-09-28T21:47:51

This island community rises like a mirage in the middle of the Amazon River, an arduous 12-mile boat ride from the nearest Brazilian city.

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett traveled here recently as part of a billion-dollar effort to deliver personal computers and wireless Internet connections to places and people who before could only dream of access to the information and knowledge that the tools provide.

Under Barrett's leadership, Intel has been a generous and consistent corporate backer of science and education.

"We've had a long history of involvement with the education of young people, and think that every child around the world ought to have the same opportunities," Barrett says.

While there's clearly a philanthropic angle, the initiative should also advance Intel's emerging WiMax technology for beaming network signals up to 30 miles. Barrett says the Parintins project is the first in a series of public-private partnerships designed to bring wireless technologies to emerging markets.

Barrett was preceded to Parintins -- a town of 114,000 residents and accessible only by boat or plane -- by technicians from Intel and Silicon Valley allies Cisco and Proxim, as well as Brazilian partners, who installed a high-speed wireless computer network on the island.

"We're interested in growing the Internet," Barrett says. "We've got our first billion people on the Internet. What better place to demonstrate what technology can do than in the middle of the Amazon rainforest?"

Residents hailed the arrival of the digital age by throwing a party for Barrett featuring traditional Amazonian music and dance celebrating the rhythms of life along the river, an event that evoked the annual boi-bumba festival that draws tourists from around the world to Parintins.

Wireless technology will revolutionize communications along the river. And high-speed Internet access will put the town's 30 doctors in touch with medical specialists in Brazil's major metropolitan areas. Instead of sending patients away for treatment by specialists, the local doctors can use the Internet to become specialists themselves.

"Doctors here don't have access to the latest information," says Dr. Francisco Tussolini, the local health secretary. "With this tool, with telemedicine, they'll be able to discover diseases much sooner than they can today."

Give a Parintins grade-schooler a personal computer and you'll soon have a hard time separating the student from the machine. "I like to draw," says a 9-year-old girl named Rebecca as she demonstrates her technique on one of the computers recently introduced to her tiny school. 

Computers linked to the Internet give Rebecca and her classmates opportunities that children in more affluent communities enjoy, Barrett says. "We can talk about it or do something about it, and in Parintins we're doing something about it," he adds.

Barrett, who visits 30 countries a year, says his rainforest visit brings immense personal satisfaction, and serves as a vivid reminder of power of technology to improve lives.

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