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Uruguayan entrepreneur urges that all schools and towns in Latin America be connected to Internet in two years

NEW ORLEANS − Uruguayan media entrepreneur Fernando Espuelas urged today that a massive program be undertaken to connect every town and every school in Latin America and the Caribbean to the Internet within 24 months.

"We are living in a moment of incredible opportunity," Espuelas told a seminar on youth development held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank.

He said the impact of the Internet on the region is "nothing short of the impact of the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese."

Espuelas is chairman and CEO of StarMedia Network, a global online network for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking audiences. It was the first Latin American media company of its kind to be traded on Nasdaq.

The Internet, he said, represents the "end of the age of monopoly" and the "beginning of the age of competition." He said it will bring about huge educational and economic opportunities that did not exist before, strengthen democracy, and shift power to consumers.

The region must seize the moment or fall behind, he warned. Wiring every school and town to the Internet is "not utopia, not a panacea. It is $1 billion." He said monopolistic and expensive telecommunications monopolies must be transformed through competition to lower costs.

In another development, Star Media Network, Inc, announced the creation of the StarMedia Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to empowering underprivileged Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking youth through information technology and leadership education.

The foundation has formed an association with the IDB’s Youth Development and Outreach Program to work together to empower underprivileged youth.

The also supports a project to connect 117 schools to the Internet in Brazil’s favelas, low-income communities in conjunction with the Committee to Democratize Information Technology, led by Brazilian youth entrepreneur Rodrigo Baggio.

The seminar was inaugurated by IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias and Muni Figueres, head of the IDB Office of External Relations, both of whom stressed the importance youth leadership in harnessing new technology for human betterment. To stress the technological nature of the seminar, panelists took questions from participants in South America using an Internet chat box.

The IDB, StarMedia, and the Japan Program are partners in organizing the seminar, for which 64 youth leaders, selected from among thousands of candidates, were brought to New Orleans from the Americas and Asia.

The youth leaders are drafting a strategy paper and will assemble again Monday afternoon for the second session of the seminar, titled "Building Human and Social Capital: The Strategic Importance of Investing in Youth Development and Participation."

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