TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: TeleInfoCentre as a Business

The Entrepreneur is the key in proliferating TeleInfoCentres. What an entrepreneur does is bring in the right zest and drive to keep up service levels and innovations. In fact, if we look at India and see the two grassroots technology revolutions in telecom and cable over the past two decades, they were both entrepreneur-driven.

In the 1980s, Sam Pitrodas dream of making telephony accessible to the masses was realised by tens of thousands of individuals and small businesses who set up a PCO (public call office). India may have only 40-odd million phone lines for a population of 1 billion, but the nearly million PCOs that dot the landscape across the country have made telecom access to almost everyone across the country. (In fact, the TeleInfoCentre can be thought of as a computer PCO.)

In the 1990s, another revolution at the grassroots brought cable television into millions of homes across the country. With satellite dishes to catch the signals from the air and wires strung from building to building and, the cable entrepreneurs revolutionized television entertainment and gave birth to Indias TV software industry and the dozens of channels that we now see.

So, who will be the TeleInfoCentre Entrepreneur? Where will he raise the initial capital from? Where will he locate the centre? How will he grow it?

The TeleInfoCentre Entrepreneur must be from the village. He (or She) could be a shopkeeper or a school teacher or one of the youngsters. It must be someone with some flair for the New. What is most important is that the Entrepreneur have an open mind because for the immediate future, he is the one who is opening up the village to the outside world. In Madhya Pradesh, for example, each village has a prerak or Info Leader, who has played a lead role in increasing literacy by educating the villagers. Such a person could be a good candidate for becoming the Entrepreneur.

The initial capital of about Rs 90,000 for setting up the TeleInfoCentre will have to come from various institutions: local banks, microcredit institutions, panchayats or NGOs. This money is not a donation it is a loan to be repaid in a period of 3-4 years. As far as possible, the state government or the district administration should not be involved in the business of financing the TeleInfoCentre.

The TeleInfoCentre should be located in a neutral zone, given the realities of Indias caste system that is still in existence in some form in many villages. A school is an ideal location because it is already seen as a bastion of knowledge, and is respected by one and all. One of the classrooms could be converted into a TeleInfoCentre. For the time that the school is in session, it becomes a computer education centre for the students. Before and after school hours, it offers services to the village residents.

For any business, growth is essential. The Entrepreneur must see potential in the business that each successive month will be better than the previous one. For this, it is important to keep layering additional services at the TeleInfoCentre. This is going to be driven both by the Entrepreneurs own marketing skills and the nature of requirements that the villagers have.

Tomorrow: TeleInfoCentre Differentiators

TECH TALK Transforming Rural India+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.