Lucky they can a-Ford it

And, according to Ford's local division, each of the company's employees in Australia and New Zealand should expect the same benefit by the end of the year.

However, www.consult's principal consultant, Ramin Mazbani, said that although Ford would continue the initiative locally, it was unlikely a significant number of Australian employers would emulate the deal. He said Australia's fringe benefits tax would be a deterrent to most companies considering a similar deal.

"In the States it's probably not regarded as a fringe benefit to give employees tools so that they can do better business at home. In Australia, the fringe benefits tax would really hold people back for doing things like this," Mazbani said.

Additionally, GartnerGroup principal analyst Ian Bertram predicted the tax would require Australian employers to pay almost double the retail cost of the computer equipment.

Bertram said the Ford initiative signified a shifting trend in the US towards offering free technology to attract consumers. He said it was unlikely Ford would have to pay UUNet more than the $5 per month employee cost. Rather, UUNet would gain access to Ford's 370,000 employees, thence generating revenues from advertising on the ISP's portal, he said.

In the US, San Francisco company PeoplePC will coordinate the program. The company will purchase computers and printers needed for the initiative from Hewlett-Packard and Internet services would be provided by MCI WorldCom subsidiary UUNet, Ford said.

Rob Panizzon, the company's vice president of process leadership in Australia, confirmed that Ford would be offering employees a similar initiative locally, but he said particulars of the local deal, including the ISP, cost and integrator, were not available.

He said Ford was currently in negotiations with other undisclosed companies regarding the Australian offer, and that the company expected to finalise the deal within four months. The offer would be rolled out to employees by the end of this year. Panizzon conceded the offer would most likely incur a small cost to employees, as in the US.

Just one day after Ford's announcement of the deal in the US, Delta Air Lines said it would offer its 72,000 employees PCs for around $US12 per month.

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