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Ford wires employees with PCs, Net access

The automaker says it plans to give every one of its workers a PC, printer and Internet access at home to improve communications between employees.

Ford Motor today announced it would offer every one of its employees a personal computer, printer and Internet access at home for a nominal fee.

The automaker hopes that by introducing its employees to computing and the Internet, it can more quickly become a technology innovator. Increased communication and collaboration among employees and "the Ford family" is expected to improve morale and productivity.

Ford plans to introduce the program first for its employees in the United States, then expand it for workers abroad. Worldwide, as many as 300,000 employees--including 100,000 United Auto Workers members--could take advantage of the program.

In the United States, the fee for the PC package will be $5 a month, according to the company.

Ford has teamed with Hewlett-Packard, MCI WorldCom's UUNET and San Francisco-based PeoplePC, a company that provides discount computer services and PC packages, to provide employees with hardware and Net connections.

"It will be (for) all employees," chief executive Jac Nasser said today during a conference call. The computer, printer and Net access "will be in their homes, so it will be for the use of employees and quite obviously for the use of families. That means a totally integrated communications system, a totally integrated Internet strategy for the company."

The base HP system will come with a 500-MHz Intel Celeron processor, 64MB of RAM, a 4.3GB hard drive, CD-ROM drive, Web and word processing software, a 15-inch monitor, speakers and 56K modem.

Employees initially will receive two email addresses, with the option of requesting more. They will also get a personal Web site with 10MB of storage and Web publishing tools.

Ford chairman Bill Ford today compared the PC program to when his great-grandfather standardized salaries for the automaker's employees.

"We believe the only sustainable advantage any company has are its people, and (Henry Ford) acted on that belief...by offering all employees a $5-a-day basic wage," Ford said.

Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina emphasized how the deal would foster collaboration between Ford and its employees. The free PC deal would help make "Ford and the extended Ford family" a "leader in the digital economy," helping people to "explore, communicate, collaborate and invent."

UAW president Stephen P. Yokich praised the effort today and underlined its importance in improving communications among union members worldwide.

"This will allow us to communicate with our brothers and sisters from around the world," Yokich said.

Employees requiring a second phone line will have to pick up that expense. Ford will pay for three-year customer support. Ford said it will begin delivering systems and Net service to U.S. employees starting in April, reaching the majority of Ford homes during the summer. Employees with existing PCs will be provided with tools for networking the systems, and those looking for more performance can pay additional charge for a more robust PC.

Ford, HP or PeoplePC would not disclose how much the automaker would pay for PCs, which are not standard off-the-shelf HP consumer models but custom-builds. Besides the base system, three upgrade models will be available for those willing to pay extra.