In Malaysia, palm-oil plantations have become the Multimedia Super Corridor. And despite an economic recession and lack of a technology-savvy labor force, it has grown rapidly.
It's a pet project of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who envisions a $1.2 billion intelligent city of high-tech companies, schools and a new paperless government seat all linked by fiber-optic lines.
The corridor starts at the southern edge of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and connects a 30-by-9-mile zone to a new multibillion dollar international airport.
Promising 10-year tax incentives and unrestricted hiring of foreign staff, the government has lured 180 companies here. Among them: Sun Microsystems, Oracle Corp. and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone. Microsoft's chairman, Bill Gates, sits on the advisory panel and has pledged future investments.
Corridor companies employ 14,600, and analysts project in five years they will generate $25 billion, about one-fourth of the Malaysian economy.
Until recently, the question mark for the project was the regional currency crisis. To reassure investors, the government earmarked $29 million for the project and sped up building of highways and railroads.
Now, the concern is politics, notably the broadly publicized and much-questioned arrest and imprisonment of Mohamad's former No. 2, Anwar Ibrahim.
Alvin Toffler, the influential American author and erstwhile corridor supporter, said in a recent article that he was skeptical the world's high-tech leaders would bring the digital future to a country he labeled mired in authoritarian rule.
"The Internet cannot deliver its full economic and cultural benefits in a climate of political fear," Toffler said.
Written By Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press