Salamanca used to be a sleepy Chilean provincial town tucked away in the foothills of the Andes. But, thanks to the foresight of the local mayor Gerardo Rojas all that has changed. Through funding from the local copper mine and help from other organizations, he has managed to ensure that the town is the first place in all of Latin America to have free high speed wireless Internet access, or WiFi, for its community.
Salamanca has just finished the first stage of installing the technology, 11 antennas that enable the town to be a WiFi area with wireless access to the Internet. University students gave up their holidays to teach the townspeople how to become computer literate. One person taking full advantage of the new technology is taxi driver Pedro Saavadera.
He says that, never in all his 60 years had he even switched on a computer and that now his life is changed. He says even though he is 300 kilometers from the capital, Santiago, he can order spare parts and check on car prices - all thanks to the computer.
In a poor community like Salamanca, it is often difficult to get access to a computer, but the mayor has opened up the local school after classes so people can use the 80 computers there. A retailer has also decided to sell computers at a more competitive price. In general, it is the young who are taking full advantage of WiFI Internet access, but they often complain that it is difficult to get a good connection.
Despite the problems, Igancio Lopez from Atina, Chile is confident that the next step is nothing short of a social revolution. He says that in Salamanca, there are no universities so people have to study elsewhere and it is expensive for their families to phone them. He says computers make it possible for everyone to have access to long distance phones over the internet.
Lopez says health care is another area in which Internet access can help. He says Salamanca does not have enough medical facilities so townspeople can use the computer to communicate with doctors or medical centers in other parts of Chile.
Since he helped set up the Internet access program, Mayor Rojas has been getting a lot of telephone calls. People from all over Chile are ringing up to find out more about the project and see if they can become the next digital city in the country.