CINCINNATI - More than 300,000 Ford employees around the world will be eligible for a personal computer and unlimited Internet access under a company program announced Thursday.
Ford is teaming with Hewlett-Packard, Internet service provider MCI WorldCom Uunet and technology provider PeoplePC to offer the package to its employees for $5 a month.
With the PC, Ford employees will be able to communicate with Chief Executive Officer Jac Nasser from their home computers, Ford executives said.
Ford Chairman William Clay Ford compared the program to his great-grandfather Henry Ford's invention of the assembly line, which revolutionized the auto industry.
''The Internet will be the equivalent of the assembly line in the 21st century,'' he said.
''This starts with the realization that the auto industry is at the leading edge of technology ... technology affects everything we do,'' Nasser said. ''We want our employees to experience that technology.''
Ford employees will get a Hewlett-Packard PC with a 500-megahertz microprocessor, 64 megabytes of random access memory, a four megabyte hard drive, a 56K modem, a printer and a full suite of Microsoft Corp. software.
They also will get a free three-year in-home service warranty and access to a variety of online shopping discounts from PeoplePC.
The $5 unlimited Internet access is well below market prices for the general public, which are about $20 a month.
Ford also is pitching the program as a way to improve communication between employees and executives, all the way up to Nasser. When employees first start up their PCs, they will see a customized home page from PeoplePC.
That page will have a link to a Ford Web portal created for employees. The portal will be customized for Ford locations around the world and will be programmed in 14 different languages.
Each participating employee will get 10 megabytes of memory and software tools to create their own Web page.
Nasser said the Internet experience should also help employees understand how people use the Web as car consumers and will demonstrate the competitive pressures in the marketplace.
Ford said the three-year program would be launched in the United States first, probably in April. It expects to have the PCs available to all employees within a year.
(Ken Stammen is a reporter for The Cincinnati Post)