updated 10/11/2006 6:04:42 AM ET 2006-10-11T10:04:42

Singapore's government said it plans to cover most of the island with public wireless Internet access by next year and offer nearly 10,000 subsidized computers to low-income students to offer digital opportunities to all its citizens.

The government will increase the number of public wireless "hot spots" from 900 to 5,000 by next year as part of the plan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told an audience late Tuesday evening while launching the Wireless@SG initiative marking 25 years of a drive to boost information technology in Singapore.

"We must create digital opportunities for all Singaporeans, and never allow a digital divide in our society," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the audience.

Lee said about 10,000 needy households with school-going children will qualify for subsidized computers, and efforts will be made to help the elderly and disabled use the Internet. The Straits Times newspaper reported that families that earn less than 200 Singapore dollars ($125) a month can purchase a computer for S$285 ($179)

The plan will offer free 512 kilobits per second wireless access for at least two years through telecom operators SingTel, iCell and QMax at public wireless hot spots across the city, said a press release from the government's Infocomm Development Authority, which is running Wireless@SG.

SingTel will offer the service free for three years; the others for two years.

"The three operators will bump up the number of Wireless@SG 'hotzones' in high-traffic, public areas ... to make wireless broadband a ubiquitous access mode by September 2007," the statement said.

The hot spots will be concentrated at town centers, business districts and shopping belts.

The development authority will pay up to 30 million Singapore dollars ($18.9 million) of the expected S$100 million ($63 million) cost for the wireless networks.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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