WITH A LARGE RURAL POPULATION AND Latin America's second lowest per capita income, Bolivia is hardly an ideal country for an Internet start-up company. There are just 18,000 users among its 8 million inhabitants or 0.002% of the population. According to a recent survey, only 5% of urban residents use the web weekly and just 10% have home computers. Moreover, an executive at the leading Internet service provider says he regularly cuts service from customers who decide to skip their monthly payments.
Bolivia's grinding poverty is a major factor--a typical computer costs more than the annual per capita income of US$1,000. Other reasons for slow Internet growth include a conservative business culture that is resistant to change and a telephone monopoly characterized by slow service and high rates.
Yet there are entrepreneurs who believe they can launch a successful Internet venture in Bolivia.
Cyber-politician. Antonio Ormachea is hardly your typical youthful computer geek out to make a financial killing with an Internet start-up. Until 1995, the 54-year-old former president of Bolivia's House of Deputies, didn't know how to turn on a computer let alone create a web company.
At the time, he ran a construction company. His interest in computers began after he fired the firm's accountant and assumed his duties, including work with complicated software programs that he had to learn on his own. And that eventually led him to the Internet.
"I've never been afraid of the...