India may have 25 million phone lines, but nearly the entire country of 1 billion has access to telecom. This is because 1 million of the phone lines go into Public Call Offices (PCOs). These manned telephone booths are there in every neighbourhood of the country. Similarly, we need Internet Community Centres, which provide need-based access to the Internet for the masses.
Cybercafes have sprung up across India, offering access for Rs 25-50 an hour. They may not be economically viable if they offer only Internet access. There is an opportunity to go beyond plain vanilla narrowband Internet access and do a lot more at these locations to build a business which makes money. India can learn from South Korea, where there are 20,000 PC Rooms. These Internet Community Centres can:
- Have the Access Devices or Multimedia PCs connected to a LAN, with high-speed Net access (512 Kbps, or more). Today in India, home users typically have better bandwidth (33-56 Kbps) than people in the office (shared 64 Kbps ISDN)! With high-speed access, the centres become attractive even for home users.
- Install Webcams, so that we can enable video chatting and video mail.
- Install Gaming Consoles like Playstation, so that these can become entertainment arcades. People can also participate in gaming via the PCs.
- Enable Communications by adding cellphone rentals and sales. As cellphone growth take off, there is an opportunity to build an incremental annuity revenue stream from sales and talk-time. A model here are Hikari Tsushin’s HIT stores in Japan.
- Offer Ecommerce fulfillment, like 7-11 in Japan. People should be able to place their orders, get delivery and pay at these access points.
- Enable Auctions fulfillment, by making these centres the meeting point for people who have bid in auctions so that they can exchange goods and money.
By creating multiple revenue streams and offering innovative applications and experiences, these Internet Community Centres offer the way forward for the mass market in India.
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