NEW YORK – The government of Libya has reached an agreement with an American nonprofit group to provide inexpensive laptop computers for all of the nation's 1.2 million schoolchildren, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
With the project scheduled to be completed by June 2008, Libya could become the first nation in which all school-age children are connected to the Internet through educational computers, Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the One Laptop per Child project, told the newspaper.
The $250 million deal, reached Tuesday, would provide the nation with 1.2 million computers, a server in each school, a team of technical advisers, satellite internet service and other infrastructure.
• Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Home Computing Center.
The One Laptop per Child project, which has the support of the United Nations Development Program, aims to provide laptops to school-aged children worldwide — for about $100 each. It has reached tentative purchase agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand.
Negroponte, a computer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he had met with Moammar Gadhafi and the project appealed to the Libyan leader's political agenda of creating a more open Libya and becoming an African leader.
The two men discussed the possibility that Libya would also pay for laptops for poorer African nations like Chad, Niger and Rwanda, said Negroponte, who is the brother of U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
Gadhafi surprised the world in late 2003 when he swore off terrorism and announced plans to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction programs. Libya was eager to end the international isolation and economic hardships from United Nations and U.S. sanctions. The U.S. has since opened an embassy in Tripoli.
A telephone call to that capital seeking comment from Libyan government spokesman Hassan al-Shawish went unanswered Wednesday.
Test models of the computers will be distributed to the participating countries in November, and mass production is expected to begin by July 2007, Negroponte said. They are to be produced by Taiwanese computer maker Quanta Computer Inc.
The machines are to be equipped with hand cranks or foot pedals, so that children can use them when electricity is too costly or not available.
Expected to initially cost $150 and then be reduced in price, they will have wireless network access and run on an open-source operating system, such as Linux.
The project was inspired by Negroponte's experience giving Internet-connected laptops to children in Cambodia. He said the first English word spoken by those children was "Google."