Custom-built computers — running on bicycle-powered generators — will transport villagers from rice fields to chat rooms and Web sites world-wide. They will be able to monitor rice and vegetable prices, sell handicrafts and e-mail relatives.
The project, expected to launch as early as this spring, gets around the lack of phone lines through a clever application of the increasingly popular WiFi technology, which is used to wirelessly connect laptops, hand-helds and other devices elsewhere.
For the first time, villagers will also be able to make phone calls, using Internet-based voice technologies. And because much of the project is built around nonproprietary, or “open source,” software, villagers will essentially own the system.
The ingenious system — not much different from a school science project — comprises five computers built with discarded microchips. They connect to the Internet with a radio network and are powered by hulking batteries attached to stationary bicycles imported from India. One minute of pedaling yields five minutes of power.
All five will use WiFi to send data wirelessly to a central radio transmitter and antenna dish at the school. From there, microwave signals will be zapped to a treetop antenna on a nearby mountain ridge and routed to a dial-up Internet account at a nearby hospital, which has two of the region’s few phone lines.
The network, designed and built for about $19,000 plus donated labor, will cost about $21 a month to operate, Mr. Thorn said.