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Proving that IT companies have a heart and aren't just in it for the money, Hewlett-Packard is to give $1 billion to the world's poor.

Villagers in Africa, South America and China stand to benefit from the scheme, which aims to hook them up to the Net and help them access healthcare, education and jobs online. Generous HP will set aside $1 billion worth of its products and services.

Of course the Californian PC giant will also benefit - it hopes to break into new markets and flog cheap PCs or printers in the future. But this seems fair enough, and is surely a more human way of doing so than using the $1 billion to line advertising execs' pockets. Plus HP gets loads of press coverage, so everyone's a winner.

According to HP, only one billion out of the world's six billion population are online, and current sales tactics would still leave around four billion people unconnected.

"There's tremendous passion behind HP taking a lead position in the creation of a huge new market, and at the same time, it's a chance to do good on a huge scale around the world," said Lyle Hurst, manager of the project.

HP will design fresh products aimed at villages rather than try and shift existing stock, it said.

The scheme include job creation for rural residents throught the Net - for example a pilot project in India, has villagers supplying technical support to computer users in North America. There are also plans to sell village products online - such as crops, art and music.

"The wealthiest 20 per cent of the population has 80 per cent of the wealth. In the old economy, that's where you go (for sales)," said Hurst. "In the information economy, it's not based on a hard assets; it's based on intellectual capital. Brain cells are evenly distributed across the population." ®

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