Reading #2

The following article is by Anuradha Kumar. It appeared in the December 12, 2002 issue of Wired News

“Indian Villagers Pedal Wireless “

KOLKATA, India – Raw muscle power might achieve what the Indian government so far hasn’t been able to: spreading the telecom revolution to the 700 million rural people of the country.

This month, 5,000 young men on bicycles carrying mobile phones equipped with CDMA Wireless Local Loop will ride into 5,000 West Bengal villages. Not only will the endeavor provide these men with a steady source of income – they keep 25 percent of profits from all calls made – but they will also bring telephone services to village doorsteps for the first time.

In a country where just over one phone exists per hundred people in rural areas, this is a big leap.

The group behind the initiative is the nonprofit Grameen Sanchar Seva Organization, known as GRASSO. Its goal is to use telecom and IT to strengthen the distribution network of agricultural produce – rural India’s mainstay . . . .

“Villages lack even their own transport to carry produce to markets, so digital connectivity is like half a circle,” Das said. “We will provide physical connectivity, too, and complete this circle.”

To achieve this, GRASSO will help villagers start their own small businesses. Previously unemployed men will become owners of telephone booths, Internet kiosks and vehicles that will carry agricultural produce.

“The idea is to build three networks – phones, Internet and transport – each sustaining the other,” said Das.

. . . First, each village will receive one phone operated by a man on a bicycle.

. . . After telephones comes transport. One small truck will serve 10 villages by carrying produce to city markets and warehouses. “Today trucks come from cities, running empty one way, so transportation costs are high for farmers,” said Das.

This local transport will be so cost-effective that farmers are willing to pay more than five times the actual cost of a call to book the vehicle by phone.

They will use the phones to contact the driver who in turn will call phone operators in each village to confirm his appointments. This way the phone and the transport network give each other business.

GRASSO’s market research has also shown that villagers will readily pay up to 15 rupees (31 cents) for the ability to make appointments with city doctors and lawyers by phone. The actual call only costs 1.25 rupees (2.5 cents).

The third network, one Internet kiosk for every 10 villages, will keep farmers on top of which markets offer the best prices.

GRASSO plans to cover most of rural India within two years. “The initiative has the potential to increase rural gross domestic product by 8 to 12 percent,” said Das. . . .

(To read the complete article, see:  http://www.wired.com/news/wireless/0,1382,56663,00.html)

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