TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: TeleInfoCentre Applications

The TeleInfoCentre fulfills a multi-centric role: it is a computing and communications centre, has a digital library of documents, complements the teachers for school and adult education, and serves as a small business office for entrepreneurs. Its real value comes, of course, from the applications that it can enable for citizen services and government interactions, making it an eGovernance touch-point for the villagers.

As was discussed in the Village Vision segment, the TeleInfoCentre caters to the needs of four constituencies: the villagers, the village administration, the district and state administrations, and the marketing organisations. The various applications available at the TeleInfoCentre can be categorised as follows:

  • Information: The TeleInfoCentre enables two-way information flow. Commodity prices, weather information, crop planning, literacy programmes, exam results, health information, school curriculum, government notifications, downloadable forms which could either be printed or filled online, and employment opportunities are all examples of what the TeleInfoCentre can provide. All of this information should be available on the server so the need to connect to the Internet is not there. Updates can be done via CD (or Internet connectivity, if available) every few days. In turn, the villagers and the village administration also provide regular updates on the health of the village and its resources, which is sent to the district administration.

  • Communications: Email (be it text or audio/video) will be the primary driver. In fact, the ability to communicate with other villages and with government officials is going to be perhaps the killer app for the initial use of the TeleInfoCentre. As WiFi becomes a reality, Voice-over-IP (VoIP) will become an important driver.

  • Community: At present, interactions between village residents are limited to gatherings at the local choupal (meeting place). Distance makes interactions between residents of different villages rare except for business or matrimony. The TeleInfoCentre can now help build out communities across villages, independent of distance, based on interest areas. Thus, farmers could form an online community, and teachers could do the same. Community weblogs are an excellent platform to amplify the flow of ideas without the constraints of time and geography. One section could contain classified ads narrowcast to specific audiences.

  • Transactions: While providing eServices like land records and birth/marriage/death certificates are important for the village residents, they may require the presence of a real-time Internet connection (unless the service can be formulated as an offline request). Transaction services like bill payments and railway bookings which require queries to centralised database servers can only become possible when connectivity improves.

    A basket of applications should be made available to the villagers for a flat price Rs 20 per family per month, as we discussed earlier. The question is: what will make each family pay a monthly subscription fee of Rs 20? My view on this is that they will pay if it can:

    Offer hopes of additional income (growth in livelihood)
    Remove pain from their lives (government interactions)
    Improve their skillsets (learn to do things better, retraining)
    Make them more productive (agriculture, crafts)
    Offer their children a brighter future (education, jobs)
    Provide them a voice to and response from government within a specified time period

    Once the TeleInfoCentres start being rolled out and their usage begins, local content developers and software companies will realise that there is an excellent platform for offering value-added services much like what we are seeing with the SMS services on cellphones today. These service providers should be able to distribute their applications and content to the TeleInfoCentres easily. Getting new services is critical for building out an ecosystem around the TeleInfoCentre foundation.

    Tomorrow: TeleInfoCentre Economics

    TECH TALK Transforming Rural India+T

  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.