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Ford to put computers in homes of workers

The program also will offer unlimited Internet access for a nominal fee to the automaker's 300,000 employees worldwide.

Ford Motor Co., reinforcing its commitment to become a leader in e-commerce, announced Thursday that it will provide its 300,000 employees worldwide with desk-top computers, printers and unlimited access to the Internet for a nominal monthly fee.

It is an unprecedented move by a major industrial firm that, by one estimate, will cost Ford $300-million over the next three years.

The program results from a contract settlement negotiated last year between the automaker and the United Auto Workers union. But Jac Nasser, Ford's president and chief executive, said that no current or new Ford employee would be excluded from the computer deal. "We're not leaving out anyone," Nasser said.

In the United States, Ford workers will pay $5 a month for the package, with Hewlett-Packard Corp. providing the computers and printers and UUnet, a subsidiary of MCI Worldcom, providing the Internet access.

Elsewhere in the world, the monthly fee will be adjusted for household incomes and living standards.

Ford officials declined comment on the program's cost to the company. But Nasser said that putting computers in the homes of all employees is worth the investment.

"This program keeps Ford Motor Co. and our worldwide team at the leading edge of e-business technology ad skills," Nasser told participants in a Detroit-based teleconference.

"We're committed to serving consumers better by understanding how they think and act. Having a computer and Internet access in the home will accelerate development of these skills, provide information across our businesses, and offer opportunities to streamline our processes," Nasser said.

Hardware will start going to Ford employees in April. All Ford employees who want to participate in the program should receive the necessary equipment within 12 months, according to the company and UAW officials.

The base computer will have a 500-megahertz Celeron chip, 64 megabytes of random access memory, a 4.3-gigabyte hard disk, a CD-ROM, a 15-inch monitor, speakers and a modem. The printer will be a color inkjet.

Both Ford and UAW officials said there will be no monitoring of how the company's employees use their computers or Internet access.

"We would not have anything to do with a program that involved monitoring," said UAW president Stephen Yokich.

The aim of the program is not to control employees, or to intrude on their personal lives, said Ford chairman Bill Ford. It is simply to make sure that they and the company move together into the 21st century, he said.

"It is clear that individuals and companies that want to be successful in the 21st century will need to be leaders in using the Internet and related technology. That is what this program is all about," Ford said.

Over the past year, Ford has moved aggressively to establish itself as the e-business leader, at least in the automotive industry. Under Nasser's prompting, the company has entered deals with Oracle Corp. to use the Internet to speed up transactions and cut costs in dealing with suppliers.

The company has also struck deals with Microsoft, CarPoint and Yahoo! to help customers shop for cars and trucks and other Ford-provided automotive services.

Thursday, Ford announced another agreement, this one with the UPS Logistics Group, to drastically reduce the delivery times of components to Ford factories and products to consumers.