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Chilean Bloggers Say 'My First PC' Can Be Better
Government plan to provide cheaper computers to low-income people called 'unfair'
Maria Pastora Sandoval Campos (mariepelou)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2005-08-26 10:50 (KST)   
The president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos (fourth from left) poses with the executives of companies from the private sector who worked toghether in the "My First PC" plan.
©2005 Chilean Gov't
On Aug. 2, the Chilean government started a new project called "My First PC", a plan aiming to create a cheaper personal computer that low-income Chileans could purchase.

Logo of the government plan "My First PC"
©2005 Chilean Gov't
The president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos Escobar, presented the plan with private-sector partners. The plan, in the same vein as those adopted by India and Malaysia, which have reported having success with theirs, was not very welcome in Chile.

The reason for the anger is that "My First PC" incorporates Microsoft Windows XP Starter Edition, making the license price 20 percent of the total price of the computer. Open-source defenders say that you can get a better operating system for free.

"My First PC" also includes the Encarta Encyclopedia, tacking on another 12 percent. Critics say users could save their money if they use, for example, Wikipedia, or search for information on the Internet.

Leo Prieto, one of Chile's top bloggers and newspaper columnist, supports the "My First PC... but for Real" campaign. In this photo, he was interviewed by a tech program about blogs.
©2005 Leo Prieto
Leo Prieto, a renowned blogger in Chile and founder of the country's most popular technology blog, Fayer Wayer, doses of technology in Spanish, titled a post "My First PC or WC?". In his column in La Nacion, a newspaper in Chile, he explained the difference between the Chilean plan and the Indian one.

"In India the PC of the plan costs 127,000 (Chilean) pesos (approximately $260) and in Chile, 240,000 pesos ($480). Although the income per capita in Chile is higher ($10,700 versus $3,100 in India), this is not a reason to be more expensive, because the price of the parts and configuration in both are almost the same."

Prieto also explained that the Windows XP Starter Edition chosen for "My First PC" is very limited and that no more that three applications can be open at one time. "The Indian PC has 1 Ghz of speed, 128 of RAM and 40 GB and you can increase it without limits."

Blogger Power

A group of friends couldn't be quiet: As bloggers, they had to do something. Alberto Contreras, a designer, Christian Leal, a digital journalist, and Claudio Bustos, a psychologist, began the adventure, transforming their anger into the campaign "My First PC... But for Real!" in which they wrote a letter to Lagos asking for a review of the plan The letter is available in English, as it was translated by the blogger Carlos Moffat.

The principal items of the letter are:
1. Equal or lower prices already exist in the market: They give examples of PCs or assembly parts actually available in shops
2. Software licenses make computers unnecessarily expensive: They offer open-source alternatives
3. Hardware options with the same performance: It is not necessary to use the most expensive processor if you can get the same results with another
4. The high cost of Internet connectivity in Chile: If the government wants higher connectivity with the "My First PC" plan, it has to think about Internet costs, they wrote. One of the goals of "My First PC" is to see more people with Internet access in their homes
5. It is irresponsible to delegate financing to big department stores: The government's decision to allow these companies to apply the same financing methods they use for their customers is unfair, as "My First PC" is a social program tailored for lower-income people, and the 36-installment plan will actually inflate the price of the computers.
The letter also points to Uruguay as an example of a government's successful efforts at technological development.

"My First PC... but for real!" campaign logo
©2005 MPPC
The founders of the campaign aimed to collect 2,500 signatures and deliver the letter to Lagos. But to their surprise, it was a huge success the first day, the Web page having crashed because of the high number of visitors. In 48 hours they had garnered 3,860 signatures. They decided to up the goal to 25,000, with Sept. 28 as the deadline.

Contreras, owner of the blog Virtuality in Black, talked about phenomena like "blogger power" and analyzed his unexpectedly successful campaign. It is a campaign from the connected for the nonconnected, so it is against individualism. It is also the first campaign by Chilean bloggers; people began to give advice on the site and one Internet user put the letter in an e-mail and sent it to all her contacts -- on Google the page ranks at the top.

A final point is that the creators of the campaign have never seen each other; they will, finally, at La Moneda, the Chilean government headquarters, when they go to submit the letter (in CD format) with all the signatures.

The Web page of the campaign started slowly and now has an English version, icons to add to the pages that support the campaign, news feed and more.

Some Effects

Francisco Hernandez, one of the bloggers against the government plan, said a friend of his is in danger of losing her job because she doesn't recommend the "My First PC" program to customers where she works.
©2005 F.Hernandez
"Today the PCs arrived at the big department store where a friend works. Some low-income people went to purchase My First PC and she said to them that PC was not the best ... So tomorrow her boss wants to talk to her about it. All because of her big heart," says Francisco Hernandez, a computer and IT engineer and blogger who also wrote about his vision of "My First PC."

The president of the Latin American Digital Journalists, editor and professor Arturo Catalan, talked about the government plan. In his blog, he gave the example of Spain, which has designated money to offer people who want to get a PC loans at 0 percent interest. In another post, he predicted the effect of the government plan: At the end of 2005, PCs will be cheaper due to competition.

The most famous blogger in Chile, Roberto Arancibia, wrote in his blog about having his own "Deep Throat," and about the government trying to "fix the cake" (a Chilean idiom that means, "fix an error"). He explains how he likes bloggers with names and not only nicks, because now many bloggers are divulging their identities. His post is in Spanish but his blog has a translation available.

Roberto Arancibia, the most famous blogger in Chile, said that the government is reviewing the plan.
©2005 M. Pastora
Cristian Leal in his blog, Francotirador, reviews how the phenomenon is being handled in the media: The best media in Chile are talking about "My First PC ... But for Real!".

The campaign is growing and growing, and all the bloggers in Chile are talking about it and are putting the logo in their blogs. The organizers said theirs is not a campaign against Microsoft, only a suggestion that the government plan could be improved.

In the frequently asked questions there is a question for the organizers:

Question: Do you believe the government will listen to you?
Answer: To us not but to the people, yes.

And it seems to be working.

- Audio of Ricardo Lagos during the launch of "My First PC" (in Spanish) 
- Video footage of Chilean President Ricardo Lagos launching the "My First PC" plan (in Spanish) 

©2005 OhmyNews
Maria Pastora Sandoval Campos, who hails from Chile, is an assistant professor of digital journalism at a university in Santiago. She is working as a journalist and loves her career and its relation to the Internet. Her blog, in Spanish, is e-dentidad.
Other articles by reporter Maria Pastora Sandoval Campos

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