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Black Market for One Laptop Per Child

The recent momentum in MIT's $100 notebook computer has gotten everyone in first-world country excited. Each child in poverty countries will get one of these $100 laptops for free, while the rest of the first-world countries get to watch with drooling lips. We are all looking forward to its release and hoping to also get one in our hands. The problem is that Nicholas Negroponte has no intention of distributing these inexpensive Linux laptops in first world countries.

I believe that would be a mistake. Because of world market economies, there are no doubt people in first-world countries will also want a taste of the laptop. So what will happen? The laptops will end up on the black market. As much as Nicholas wants to provide each child with a notebook computer to learn with, the world marketplace will be dangling a sweet carrot in front of every poor child--a $50 to $300 carrot, depending on how big the hype gets. Soon enough, the professional market traders, or perhaps the mafia, will come up with a nice business plan to acquire as many $100 laptops as possible. Nicholas will find this educational plan broken down, because the children in those poor nations will have trouble acquiring keyboard time.

I hope Nicholas Negroponte has already thought of this possibility. Because he will definitely need a plan to thwart people's desire of owning one of these computers. I, for one, love the idea of distributing inexpensive notebook to children for education. But without a plan its success is at risk.

What would be a solution? Perhaps make an announcement that the $100 laptops will be distributed worldwide, after every child in third-world nations have already have one. But I suspect this solution is not enough. Just look at the history of game console distribution; first shipment of PlayStation 2 fetched $1000 on eBay each (three times the retail price). A better solution would be a pledge that the $100 laptops will be distributed worldwide at the same time, but in much lower quantity than third-country distribution. Or how about charging royalty on technology licensing so that many manufacturers may produce them and distribute them as they wish worldwide? The additional royalty could provide revenue sources to provide more notebooks to needy kids.

By meeting the world market economy needs, I believe the One Laptop Per Child program would be successful. Distribution through various manufacturers provides healthy competition and low profit margin. Thus keeping rogue traders a bay from taking advantage of the needy children.

Chieh Cheng
Mon, 18 Sep 2006 15:11:14 -0700

It has started . . .

"Invariably, the machine gets attention. It attracts people more than any other unit I've seen. (Only Wii comes close.) People want to see it, touch it, and feel it."

Chieh Cheng
Tue, 19 Dec 2006 13:16:44 -0800

The moment of truth is getting real close . . . '$100 laptop' production begins

Chieh Cheng
Tue, 24 Jul 2007 17:47:52 +0000

One of the solutions would be to distribute the notebooks to first-world countries at 2x-2,5x-the-price (i.e. $200 to $250 ea.) with the promise that one free laptop would be delivered to a child in third-world country. In this case, more people would buy laptops not only because of a technical interest, but also because of the charity aspect of it.

Fri, 21 Sep 2007 23:20:11 +0000

Sasha, I think you are getting your wish, at twice the expense: OLPC News: OLPC Give 1 Get 1 Program: XO-1 Laptop USA Sales!!!

Chieh Cheng
Mon, 24 Sep 2007 19:42:32 +0000

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