Frederick Noronha writes about Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT-Madras, and his efforts in creating affordable telecom solutions in helping bridge the digital divide. His vision of telecom echoes what we want to do in computing:
He believes it makes business sense to provide communication to the poor, but “business has to be done in a different way”.
“In 1987, India opened STD PCOs (inter-state telephone booths) in India. We aggregated the demand of middle and lower middle classes of urban people and provided them shared telephony.
“Today there are 950,000 STD PCOs contributing to approximately 25 percent of the total telecom revenue in the country and serving 300 million people who do not otherwise use telephones. The whole thing makes great business sense,” says he.
Jhunjhunwala wants to replicate a similar phenomenon with the Internet.
“Internet is power. It enables people. It is changing the way we live. Those without Internet will have a tremendous disadvantage as we go on. We would like to see that all villages get reasonable speed Internet connection at the earliest.
“India needs (telecom) products at a cost three-times lower than that prevalent in the West. The simple reason is that affordability in India is much lower,” says Jhunjhunwala.
His vision is to connect 650,000 villages in India with the Internet and use that to double rural gross domestic product. He would also like 200 million telephone and Internet connections in India “at the earliest”.