Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker, says it has started a $US75 million ($A72 million) program that will put as many as a million small African businesses online in the next three years.
The company's 4Afrika Initiative will also offer business training for as many as 200,000 people and create an online hub for application development and business networking, said Louis Otieno, the project's legal and corporate affairs director.
"The purpose of this is to find ways of engaging the continent on economic development and making it a globally competitive place," he said by phone from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Microsoft also plans to sell "tens of millions" of smartphones, computers and other devices at a discount under the program, Otieno said, without providing a specific figure.
Africa has fewer than five mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 people, compared with more than 10 per cent for the rest of the world, according to the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union. The continent is expected to have the fastest mobile-phone connection growth over the next five years, according to Chicago-based consultancy A.T. Kearney.
About 10 per cent of Africa's more than 1 billion people have access to the internet, and that number may rise to as many as 400 million by 2015, according to Google, which expects to make a profit in Africa by 2017.