NEW YORK -- In an effort to get more Hispanics online, a Spanish-English Web site is handing out more than 2 million computer disks offering free Internet access customized for bilingual use.
"Hispanics are barely coming online," said Gary L. Trujillo, chief executive of Quepasa.com, which will mail CD-ROMs to U.S. Hispanic households today. "We want to bring access to a community underserved."
Quepasa will use Internet service from NetZero, which already offers free access in English to 3 million subscribers. During their time online, subscribers must look at ads, some targeted specifically to the Hispanic audience.
Robert Taylor, Quepasa's chief operating officer, said signing up for free access often requires having an Internet connection to begin with. He said Quepasa's software disks will overcome that hurdle and raise awareness.
Users can choose between English and Spanish, although the Web browser itself will remain in English.
A Commerce Department study last summer found that less than 13 percent of Hispanic households had Internet access, compared with 30 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics also lagged in computer ownership.
Thomas E. Cavanagh, who studied Internet access for the business research group Conference Board in New York, said Quepasa's initiative may narrow the gap only partly.
But he said the Spanish component might be seen as a gesture of welcome -- "the sense of being invited to join a community online."
"Certainly everything helps, and for some families who have some computers, having free Internet access in both English and Spanish might be a big aspect," he said. "Of course, you have to have a computer to make use of it."