Kerry A. Dolan , Forbes Staff
Carlos Slim Helu became the richest man in the world largely thanks to his investment in telecom. His philanthropic work in his home country of Mexico has focused to a great degree on spreading access to broadband and Internet. Now he’s moving his philanthropic efforts north of the border. The Carlos Slim Foundation announced Thursday it is donating $3 million to a private-public partnership called Connect2Compete, which offers discounted high-speed Internet access to Latino families in the U.S.
A $3 million donation is a small amount of money for a man worth $69 billion, someone who has put at least $4 billion, by his count, into the Carlos Slim Foundation since 2006. What’s notable: This is the first time Slim’s foundation has trumpeted its work on a project in the United States.
In a statement Slim said: “Connect2Compete’s efforts can increase the adoption of broadband in the U.S. and connect families through technology across borders, while promoting innovative uses of broadband and technology that help better education, create jobs, promote development and increase access to health care.”
Arturo Elias, one of Slim’s sons-in-law, a vice president at Telmex and Slim’s de facto spokesman, explained the rationale to me this way: “Of course we have done a lot in Mexico, as you know. We have 3,500 classrooms and digital libraries with Internet access. The idea here is to help connect the Hispanic community with their people, [their family members] in Mexico and Latin America.”
Slim announced the donation at an event at Horace Mann Middle School in San Diego, California on Thursday. Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who was also at the event, discussed progress on the FCC’s national effort with Connect2Compete to provide millions of families high-speed Internet, closing the broadband adoption gap.
The donation from the Slim Foundation comes at a time when America Movil, a telecom company active in the U.S. and throughout much of Latin America, is expanding its footprint in the U.S. In early May America Movil’s U.S. unit, Tracfone, acquired California-based Simple Mobile, a mobile virtual network operator, for around $100 million, according to Reuters.
Slim is a strong believer in the relationship between Internet access and economic success –he is from the “teach a man to fish” school of thought (rather than giving out the fish). When I interviewed him in January in Mexico we discussed the subject at length. In the statement issued today Slim repeated some of his beliefs: “By 2015, we need to give broadband access to all through landline or mobile at home and work and in public digital libraries. ICT will be a very important activity creating many new jobs. We are pleased to bring our experience in Latin America to the work of connecting Latino families in the United States. This effort can serve as a model for similar technology adoption efforts.”
Connect2 Compete is a relatively new effort. Its website says it launched a pilot project this spring in San Diego but aims to expand to all 50 states, and also offer low cost computers and digital literacy training. The group has received funding from corporations including Best Buy, Intel and Morgan Stanley, computers from Microsoft, and donations of services from a raft of high-speed Internet providers including Cablevision, Cox and Time Warner.