Ford Motors plans to provide its 350,000 staff worldwide with computers, printers and Internet access for $5 per month to try and ensure that they learn technology skills.
US employees who accept the offer will receive the computers by the second quarter, but the car giant plans to roll out the scheme across the rest of the world within the next 12 months.
PeoplePC is coordinating the three year deal, but the PCs and printers will be provided by Hewlett-Packard, while MCI WorldCom's Uunet will supply the Internet access. The HP machines will be based on 500MHz Celeron chips and come with 64Mb of Ram, a 4.3Gb hard disk, CD-Rom drive, 15 inch monitor, speakers and a modem.
Jac Nasser, Ford's president and chief executive, said: "This programme of having a computer and Internet access in the home keeps Ford and our worldwide team at the leading edge of ebusiness technology and skills."
The company hopes the move will mean it can become a technology innovator more quickly, with increased communication and collaboration between staff.
And Bill Ford, Ford's chairman, compared the scheme with the decision by Henry Ford, his great grandfather, to standardise staff salaries. "We believe the only sustainable advantage any company has are its people," he attested.
But Stephen Yokich, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, attributed the arrangement to cooperation between Ford and the union, which represents thousands of hourly workers at Ford.
He said: "This programme is a tribute to the collective bargaining process and to our solid relationship with Ford."
Employees will be able to access the Internet through a special portal that will enable them to customise their options, preferences and shortcuts. The portal will also provide direct links to Ford information and services and will be customised for different regions of the world.
Carly Fiorina, HP's president and chief executive, said the announcement "showcases how enlightened companies are empowering their employees by making technology accessible".
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