A well organized group of proactive bloggers and computer enthusiasts have taken the Chilean government to task over it's newly announced program, “My First PC,” which was launched by the Lagos administration on August 2nd as a way to help narrow the digital divide in Chile. Wanted or not, president Lagos has found himself hundreds of unpaid, volunteer consultants offering their expert opinion on how the program can be improved. The resulting letter, which already bears the name of more than 11,000 signatories, outlines specific actions the government can take to more effectively promote affordable digital literacy. It is also backed up by comparative case studies from other countries such as Malaysia where 70% of customers in a similar public-private initiative chose Linux powered machines over their more costly Windows counterparts.
Besides offering advice on how to make the software and hardware more efficient and economical, the bloggers also have something to say about the government's own back-patting when it comes to broadband accessibility:
It is inappropriate for the government to congratulate itself for offering broad-band (128kbps) for CLP$11.900 [US $21.73], given that only in May, the Undersecretary for telecommunications Christian Nicolai was bringing attention to the high cost of an internet connection in Chile, which double comparable European services and are higher than those available to our Argentinian neighbors.
The letter goes on to recommend a program similar to PC Conectado from Brazil which offers 15 hours of internet access a month for less than US $3. It even specifies an alternative financing plan which would provide lower interest rates and greater transparency.
Paolo Colonnello, general manager of Blue Company and Director of MundoOS, argues in an interview on Atina Chile why “My First PC” should use open source software like Linux, Firefox, and Open Office. When asked of his thoughts on the program, he replies:
“First, it is important to make clear that this is not a government initiative, it is a private initiative; a group of companies that got together and made an offer which was sponsored, but not developed by the government. In other words, there are no public interests involved in this campaign and the government is only giving its endorsement to satisfy the minimum goals put forth on the Digital Agenda.
But perhaps the most impressive characteristic of the bloggers’ campaign – dubbed, “My First PC, But For Real!” – is how quickly it has spread and how much support it has garnered. Publicist Roberto Arancibia was the 11th person to sign the letter and has been an ardent supporter of the project. Last Friday, in a post entitled “Good News” he wrote, “from a trustworthy source I now know… the higher spheres haven't just acknowledged the criticism, but also have felt the force of the bloggers’ campaign to improve My First PC and are already trying to fix it.” He then goes on to credit much of the success of the campaign to the fact that several formerly anonymous bloggers left their aliases behind and made appearances in Chile's major media to support their mission to improve the program.
One way in which “My First PC, But For Real” has kept the fire going is by encouraging bloggers to write posts about the campaign and then submitting their post for inclusion in this impressive list. A badge, with the running count of signatures, has also been made available.
It remains to be seen if the bloggers’ collective effort will help actually reform the program. Azaly wrote a post on Atina Chile this morning which calls the government's original program a complete success. “The demand has been so great, that the first stock of computers has already been exhausted. In just the first week, they have sold more than 10,000 units offered by the government and private companies.”
The highly regarded Chilean blogger and senator, Fernando Flores has written five points of reflection on the “My First PC” project and its dissenters:
First: I am happy that the government and private sector have taken on this initiative. For the first time we are realizing that computers are a necessity and that they are making available lines of credit seems excellent to me.
Second: Equally, I love that the Chilean blogosphere produced the movement, “My First PC, But For Real!” because it shows that the blogosphere is beginning to work with the force of the citizens and that technology is beginning to enter politics.
Third: I don't agree with the whiny attitude that [the program] must be made better and that the government and Microsoft are being abusive. This is an attitude of victims, which never produces benefits nor takes the risk of assuming responsibility.
Fifth: It's advisable to create an alternative, which is better, cheaper, and equally available. Here is where GNU/Linux and open source applications could play an important role. But we will have to also worry about training and support.