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Broadband Helps Connect Remote Villages

Qiu Dongping was about 50 kilometers away from his hometown yesterday, bargaining for affordable computers.

Qiu is head of a large village in the mountainous county of Dapu in the east of Guangdong Province, home to 2000 people in six villages.

"The local town government has told me that the broadband service will be available in my village by early September at the latest, so my team has decided to buy one or two reasonably priced PCs to make good use of it," he told China Daily.

"In the coming few weeks, I will learn how to use a computer and how to produce Internet adverts at an IT learning centre in my county."

He said many of the villagers have been looking forward to the broadband service as they have been made aware of its benefits by those studying or working in big cities.

"For one thing, although we live in out-of-the-way mountainous areas, we don't have to be cut-off from the Internet world," he said. "Furthermore, we will try to make good use of the Internet for the promotion of our resources including fruit, beautiful scenery, fresh air, porcelain and sweet mountain springs."

The new broadband initiative is the latest development in the province's efforts to better connect rural areas.

Last week, China Telecom's Guangdong branch signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Guangdong Provincial Information Industry Department to significantly improve telephone and broadband services in rural areas.

Under the MOU, the firm will within three years provide telephone services to each household in villages that have over 20 households, as well as broadband Internet to every large village.

The firm will spend 800 million yuan (US$100 million) this year to reach 2,000 villages, an investment that will increase each year.

Currently more than 8,800 small villages in the province have no telecoms service, while 7,000 large villages have no broadband.

Chen Qinggong, a middle-aged university teacher in Guangzhou, was delighted with the news for personal reasons.

"With a telephone service available soon, I'll be able to talk to my elderly parents often," he said.

Chen's parents live in a very small village in the mountainous county of Raoping in east Guangdong.

According to Chen Junhua, an official with the provincial information industry department, the MOU will step up the pace of "digitalizing Guangdong" in rural areas.

The programme was kicked off in 2003 when the provincial government earmarked 35 million yuan (US$4.32 million) each year for the next five years.

IT companies such as Intel and TCL are participating in the programme.

Intel, for example, is financing 100 IT learning centers this year and will train 3000 rural staff. These staff are in turn expected to teach 1 million rural residents basic computing skills.

One service proving popular is being run by China Mobile. The firm provides 3 million rural subscribers with free text messages.

Ma Weiwen, a middle-aged farmer in a rural town called Feilaixia in Qingyuan, said these special text messages have become a normal part of his day.

"The messages are very useful for us, they are teaching us how to select good seeds, when and how to prevent pests, how to take better care of fruit trees, how to pick and keep fresh seasonal fruits like lychees and longan," said Ma.

Ma said he is expecting a bumper harvest of longan, about 3,500 kilograms, later this month.

"I have been learning how to use a computer and how to place ads online at the IT leaning centre in my village." he said. "I'm going to put the information of my longan on the Internet soon."

(China Daily August 1, 2006)

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