Hoping to foster computer adoption among the general public, the Hong Kong Computer Society and the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau (ITBB) launched a HK$2.5 million technical support centre yesterday. Eleven staff would man a hotline from 9am until midnight and give advice on technical issues such as setting up computers, running applications and Internet access, Computer Society director Joseph Leung Wai-fung said. The project, which is also receiving sponsorship from a number of vendors, will run for one year before an assessment is made on whether to continue or expand. 'That depends on the feedback,' Mr Leung said. Support line staff would speak Cantonese, Mandarin and English, and their areas of expertise would vary, he added. 'We cannot 100 per cent guarantee to answer all the questions. But if something is hardware related, say, for instance, a printer model, if we don't have that model in the centre, then we will try to refer the contact number to the caller and try to ask them to call the vendor,' he said. Most companies that sell computer hardware and software also have support lines of their own and Mr Leung said IT Easy Link would keep a list of the major ones. However, he believed Hong Kong might be the first city to set up an independent computer support line. Hong Kong and other cities in the region have all initiated various information technology (IT) education projects, hoping to give themselves a competitive edge. The Government has placed about 5,000 computers in public spaces and conducted IT awareness courses aimed older users, women and the handicapped. Last autumn, another campaign called 'Try It Online' was launched by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta), in conjunction with several Internet service providers. Aside from government-led campaigns on IT awareness, possibly a bigger catalyst for local IT and Internet adoption is the broadband price war that has raged over the past year. As of April, Ofta numbers show that more than 701,000 households are using broadband, an increase of more than 100,000 from January. Mr Leung said he expected the new hotline, which can also be accessed via the Internet, to be promoted via radio and live events. 'The service will cover some basic questions on IT applications like word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, Internet skills . . . They will ask you a few questions [such as] which system you are now using . . . Chinese version or English version [and] which platform, and then step by step try to answer your questions,' he said. According to ITBB, as of last year, more than 60 per cent of Hong Kong's households and more than half of all businesses had computer access. Mobile phone penetration is far higher at more than 80 per cent as of April. In Asia, Hong Kong competes most intensely with Singapore for wired-city status. Hong Kong does not conduct massive projects such as Singapore's billion-dollar biotechnology drive, but the SAR Government recently stepped up efforts to increase use of IT and electronic commerce. These include putting government services online and the launch of the Hongkong Post's certification authority, which issues electronic signatures for wired and wireless Internet. The Computer Society is a private group with about 2,200 individual members, though some are from IT-related companies. Other sponsors of the new support line are New T&T, Pacific Century CyberWorks, Adobe, Apple, Sun Microsystems, Symantec, IBM, HP, Microsoft and Longrand Electronics. The IT Easy Link Web site can be found at www.easylink.org.hk .