Continuing with the functions that Telecentres equipped with the Rs 5,000 PCs (5KPCs) can perform:
Instant Business Office: Kinkos is a chain of stores in the US in most urban and office neighbourhoods which serves as an outsourced back office for individuals and small businesses offering computers, printers, photocopying machines, fax machines, binding services and more. For small businesses, it is an extension of their office. Similarly, telecentres can combine Kinkos-like features to offer services to the small and medium enterprises in the neighbourhood. The model is the same: shared ownership brings down the unit cost for all.
Wireless Access Point: The Telecentres have an 802.11 (WiFi) wireless access point, which enables them to provide connectivity to the 5KPCs in the vicinity. Thus, homes, businesses, kirana shops (the neighbourhood grocery stores like the 7-11s to be found in many Asian cities) can be equipped with just the 5KPC embedded with a wireless card, which can connect to the server in the telecentre through open spectrum. Connectivity speeds would range from 11-54 Mbps, while the range would be a few hundred metres (perhaps higher, if there is line-of-sight available). What these access points do is enable instant and cheap connectivity for the end-users, eliminating the need for everyone to have a high-speed Internet connection. They also bring down the price for the endpoints (the computers) with the caveat that they need the presence of a network to light up. From the telecentres point of view, they create an additional income source beyond the limitations of the telecentre real estate.
E-Governance Front-end: Another important role for the telecentres is as the touch-points for various citizen-centric services offered through the various e-governance initiatives which are being implemented by governments and municipal corporations worldwide. As the backend computerisation of governance takes place, what is missing is the mechanism for citizens to get access to these services. This is where the neighbourhood telecentres come in by making it possible to use a connected computer to access the various services. This is the route which will reduce pain points in the lives of the citizens be it renewing driving licences, checking land records, inquiring on the status of submitted applications, paying bills or even voting. In fact, in Andhra Pradesh in India, one of the services started by the government is match-making!
Software Distribution: There is an amazing array of open-source software available. Lindows lists over 1,700 Linux applications. Many of these applications are large in size and require a lot of time for downloading over low-speed connections. This is where telecentres can come in. They can offer these mirrored applications which can be run by users to get a feel for what they do, and if there is interest, the application could be copied on to a CD for use by the individual or SME for a small fee. Thus, the telecentre becomes a software distributor (or replicator).
Thus, the telecentre is much more than just a single Internet kiosk or a cybercafe. It offers multiple facilities. It opens up new possibilities by providing high-performance computing in the neighbourhood. It brings information, communication and software to the doorsteps of consumers and enterprises, and can facilitate many new application areas.
Tomorrow: Telecentres (continued)