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Information nodes in
the rural landscape
This article “The percentage of growth that an IT firm like HP [Hewlett-Packard] will get
from people whose income is less than $1 a day is not going to be that signifi-
critically examines cant… we don’t have a significant percentage of our future growth even coming
from people who live on $3 a day… I mean, do people have a clear view of what
digital it means to live on $1 a day? There’s no electricity in that house, none. So is
somebody creating computers that don’t require electricity? …No, there are no
development in solar power systems for less than a dollar a day, honest…You’re just buying food,
you’re trying to stay alive...”
order to reveal the Bill Gates speaking at the Digital Dividend seminar.i

larger impact that “… there is an urgent need to examine the catalytic and enabling role to be
played by the government in ensuring that IT provides new opportunities for the
ICTs could have 40% of the people who are living below poverty line, so that they may move
above it.”
on rural Government of India Working Group on Information Technology for Masses.ii

economies and “Let IT remain the staple for academics and professionals. What will it mean for
people in the thousands of miserable villages in this misguided nation? Please,
societies, it goes please come out of your ivory tower and see the plight of Indian villages, sans
water, sanitation and decent living. Photographs of farmers posing with PCs and
further to identify fishermen analyzing computer printouts may befit a TV ad, but what are you
trying to sell?”
Information Kiosks Letter to the editor of a leading news magazine, responding to a feature on the digital empowerment of
rural India.iii
as the most
Introduction that the internet has. No cultural-techno-
effective vehicle The idea that the internet and related tech- logical innovation since Television has had
nologies might have an important role in this kind of impact on the world’s econo-
for digital aiding developmental efforts has captured my, its politics and its globalizing popular
a central place in international policy de- cultures, or even on our cultural concep-
development. bates. Over the course of the last three tions of distance and time. The promise
years, statements affirming the need to of digital development is that it might have
close the so-called ‘digital divide’ between the same reach as the original internet
social groups with and without access to boom of the mid 1990s – only this time,
the internet have been made through sev- the most disprivileged communities, those
eral UN agencies, at the G-8 summit, and who had missed out on earlier waves of
at meetings of developmental organiza- technology, might be able to ‘leapfrog’ over
tions around the world. their more developed competitors. The
The idea of digitally-oriented develop- greatest obstacles to rural development –
ment is as powerful and seductive as the large distances and inadequate infrastruc-
Aditya Dev Sood
technology upon which it is based. No sin- ture – might be obviated by instant access
CEO, Center for Knowledge Societies
gle technological revolution has changed to virtual institutions that provide bank-,
the lives of current generations in the way ing, education, health care, neonatal in-

14 i4d | May – June 2003

Gyandoot Soochanalaya in Dhar,
Madhya Pradesh, India

Photo © CKS 2003

formation, agricultural advice, and so
But skeptics also have good reason. Bill
Gates’ now infamous dictum, that a com-
puter cannot benefit someone earning less
than a dollar a day, remains a serious chal-
lenge to any attempt to ameliorate social
and economic disparities through Infor-
mation and Communications Technolo-
gies (ICTs).iv In South Asia, where most
rural populations lack running water and The initial euphoria surrounding In- Naidu also installed a highly sophisticat-
sanitation systems, where electricity is still dia’s successful software export industry has ed network of communications systems in
a scarce and intermittent resource, where now given way to a new introspection into his home constituency of Kuppam, as a
roads are poor and education a luxury, the reasons why these intellectual and hu- model for other regions of the state. Be-
these technologies truly appear to be far man resources have not driven improve- ginning in 1996, he was the first Indian
removed from the everyday concerns of the ments in India’s public and private politician to advocate eGovernance for
poorest sections of the countryside. Al- institutions, education systems, and infra- making the state machinery more respon-
though, this article begins by critically ex- structure. These reasons are not hard to sive and sensitive to citizen needs at the
amining the problems and possibilities of find: (i) the Indian software industry solves district and panchayat level. These poli-
digital development in order to reveal the small components of larger problems for cies are being emulated at the national level
larger impact that ICTs could have on ru- international clients; (ii) this work is usu- through an ‘IT for the Masses’ policy state-
ral economies and societies, it goes further ally protected by confidentiality agree- ment. Neighbouring Karnataka is one
to particularly identify Information Kiosks ments; (iii) many Indian software among many other states of India to have
as the most effective vehicle for digital professionals and companies compete for issued an IT policy statement directed to-
development. the same international contracts; (iv) the wards the ‘common man.’ Naidu’s solu-
opportunity costs of working for Indian tion to the political dilemma of promoting
Emergence of Information versus international clients is very high; high-tech alongside rural empowerment,
and Communications Sectors and finally (v) low teledensity, computer therefore, long anticipated current inter-
As is well known by now, India’s IT sector usage, literacy, the inadequacies of regional national debates on ‘digital divide.’
took off in the early 1980s with the estab- language software interfaces, and other Despite the on-going deregulation of
lishment of off-shore development cent- obstacles of India’s developing infrastruc- India’s telecommunications sector, its na-
ers. Relatively cheap English-speaking ture, coupled with regulatory hurdles have tional teledensity (telephones per hundred
engineering and technical talent were em- inhibited such ventures. persons) has improved very slowly, from
ployed at centers in Bangalore and Chen- None of this prevented Andhra .06 in 1990, to 3 today (compare with
nai, then Hyderabad, and now in the Pradesh’s Chief Minister, Chandrababu China at around 11). Voice over Internet
suburbs of New Delhi (NOIDA). Since Naidu from crafting an aggressive state Protocol (VoIP), and Wireless-in-Local-
the liberalization of the Indian economy policy to attract IT-oriented investments, Loop (WiLL or WLL) technologies, how-
in the early 1990s, the Indian government simultaneously claiming that this sector ever, now appear set to offer cheaper and
has relentlessly promoted the IT sector as served the larger public interest. The con- lighter forms of telecom infrastructure that
the harbinger of the nation’s economic as- straints of electoral politics in India’s largely should improve rural access exponential-
pirations. Even though the country pos- rural society have meant that economical- ly. The idea of non-elites using and bene-
sesses only 10 million Personal Computers ly liberal and technologically sophisticat- fiting from ICTs has begun to gain
(PCs; Pentium I or superior), it houses the ed leaders could not afford to leave currency with the number of cell phone
largest number of software professionals themselves open to the charge of promot- users rising to 15 million Indians. Never-
outside California, whose efforts have re- ing IT at the expense of rural development, theless, the export-oriented software indus-
sulted in the export of software worth more and this is a fine line to walk: Even as he try has yet to take full advantage of the
than 10 billion dollars, much of it to the invited Microsoft to set up a software cent- opportunities presented by the newly net-
United States. er in the Hyderabad’s technology park, worked home market. A new synergy be-

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of rural infrastructure possible today.
Kiosk set up for community Although this kind of a public infor-
Photo © CKS 2003

narrowcasting in Pondicherry by the MS mation center would require a hardware /

Swaminathan Research Foundation software / connectivity investment of
about Rs. 40,000 (appx. US$ 850), this
resource could then serve between 500 and
standard sequence and hierarchy for de- 5,000 citizen-consumers. The technology’s
velopment: first a society must adequately cost per capita is therefore miniscule. The
manage its nutrition and healthcare, then M. S. Swaminathan experiment in Pon-
it must address education and achieve to- dicherry, and NIIT experiment in New
tal literacy, then it must provide electrici- Delhi’s slums have demonstrated that even
tween the infotech and telecom sectors in ty to all its villages, then it must install those with limited education, literacy, or
India could create a profound social and telephones, and so forth. In fact, post-co- English competency can quickly master
economic revolution in rural communi- lonial societies in Asia, Africa and the windows-based point-and-click graphical
ties across South Asia. Americas have repeatedly shown that they user interfaces. Moreover, the Gyandoot
can be successful in one or another dimen- Project in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, has
Technology driven social sion of human, social, and economic demonstrated that rural citizen-consum-
change in South Asia achievement, without necessarily replicat- ers are quite willing to pay for the services
The problems and potential of ICT-driv- ing a normative European trajectory of of such centers, so long as these transac-
en projects in South Asia are truly enor- industrial development. Diverse social and tions make a direct and real impact on their
mous. This region hosts an extraordinary infrastructural needs must be addressed life and livelihood. Here we may empiri-
concentration of new technology driven more or less simultaneously to ensure a na- cally disprove Bill Gates’ theory that the
companies, tech-savvy administrators and tion’s future growth and prosperity. most poor citizen-consumers will not en-
managers, a political class newly sophisti- It is naive to imagine that electricity, counter Microsoft or Wintel products:
cated to the possibilities of IT, social en- telephony and connectivity in rural areas persons making less than $1 per day have
trepreneurs and NGO institutional will improve if the demand for these re- regularly come into existing information
structures that could all come together to sources does not grow. In addition, infor- centers to seek information on regional
bring the benefits of networked technolo- mation networks can become conduits hospitals and medical centers, to send and
gies to rural and disprivileged groups. And that allow money to flow into the village receive emergency messages, and to trans-
yet, we must face the frustrations of inter- through new kinds of non-discriminato- act with the state machinery in ways that
mittent, inconsistent electrical power, ar- ry, clean and relatively unoppressive indus- enhance their quality of life and livelihood.
chaic, scarce and unreliable telephony and tries. Information and communications Rural information networks can allow
net-connectivity, neo-feudal politico-busi- technologies can also compensate for oth- knowledge, services, money, and certain
ness consortia that hinder or hijack devel- er kinds of infrastructure limitations. For kinds of products to more easily flow from
opmental efforts, deeply ingrained example, if online work, trade, or payment node to node across long distances. Each
ideologies of caste-hierarchy, gender ine- were to become available for members of village node can also serve as a range of
quality, and religious-communal differ- a village community, the poor quality of virtual institutions, such as a community
ence, as well as significant deprivations of roads to and from that village becomes less center, a bank, a medical center, a govern-
basic human needs. These limitations cast of an obstacle to earnings and employ- ment information center, a matrimonial
grave doubt over the optimism of those ment. Finally, and most importantly, if office, a public telephone booth, a public
attempting to use emerging technologies capital were to become more readily avail- library and educational resource center, all
for developmental purposes. able within a village community through at a fraction of the cost of corresponding
A common objection to IT initiatives such networked systems, it would then be ‘real’ institutions. By making these resourc-
suggests that they are premature, or that in a better position to finance the basic es available in villages, information cent-
they ‘put the cart before the horse,’ in as infrastructure that it needs, including ers can alleviate the asymmetry between
much as electricity, telephony, and con- roads, dispensaries, water and sanitation urban and rural environments. In order
nectivity are highly erratic and variable in systems. to accelerate rural growth, it is essential
many parts of South Asia. Moreover, more It may be correct to say that PCs re- that we learn new ways of integrating so-
basic kinds of infrastructure including main expensive, fragile, quickly obsolete, cial and human infrastructure develop-
schools, healthcare centers, balanced nu- English-centric, complex and difficult to ment into the installation of basic
trition, gender equity, employment, and master, and therefore almost entirely elite information and communications infra-
transportation are lacking. Why should we in their scope and operation. Nevertheless, structure.
consider this expensive and elitist form of networks of human-mediated computer
infrastructure, when more fundamental kiosks, shared among multiple users of a Overcoming bottlenecks
developmental needs remain unmet? rural community, could in fact prove to The three basic infrastructural require-
This criticism assumes that there is a be the most inexpensive and inclusive form ments for rural ICT initiatives are, of

16 i4d | May – June 2003

course, (i) Electricity, (ii) Telephony (or ICT projects on the assumption that ba- times a day in brief bursts of data. In this
its equivalent), and (iii) Network Connec- sic telephony will not be available, there is way, a range of services may be continu-
tivity. The problems associated with these another, better, approach: Rural ICT ously provided, notwithstanding narrow
inputs must be recognized as inherent fea- projects may be used to test and design bandwidth, slow transfer rates, and inter-
tures of the landscape, and tackled as an new kinds of telecommunications infra- mittent connectivity.
integral part of the implementation proc- structure, including, for example Wireless-
ess. in-Local-Loop (WLL) technologies, which Introduction to information
(i) Electricity: In many rural areas, elec- offer a cheaper, lighter, and more intelli- kiosks
trical supply may be restricted to only 6 gent type of network. WLL systems allow Many analysts and practitioners agree that
or 8 hours a day. When electrical power is simultaneous data and voice telephony the possibilities of digital development hit
available, its voltage and frequency may across long distances (wireless), thanks to the rural landscape at the site of the infor-
vary far outside the acceptable limits of a local network of cables provided and mation kiosk. We understand the term
most hardware. Finally, there is often no maintained by a rural entrepreneur (local Information Kiosk to refer to multifunc-
earthing provided. loop). Important applications of this tech- tional and networked installations at ru-
For most rural ICT projects, battery nology have been developed at the TeNet ral locations in developing environments
back-ups and Universal Power Supply-s Group at IIT-Madras. Mesh networks that seek to use Information and Com-
(UPS-s) are mandatory. In some cases, could prove to be the next enabling and munications Technologies (ICTs) to bring
multiple tractor batteries have been con- disruptive form of connectivity, allowing new access to content and services to ru-
nected in parallel to create a mammoth few to few interactions that would com- ral citizen-consumers. Such installations
UPS that can withstand day-long power pletely bypass telecom networks. have been variously termed Telecenters
cuts. In addition to these battery systems, (iii) Connectivity: Internet subscription (Harris 2003), Knowledge Centers (Bala-
circuit breakers and voltage stabilizers are is not always available in rural and under- ji et al 2002), Community Information
also necessary. Several agencies have had developed sections of South Asia. Even Centers (HP 2002), Information Centers
to create their own earthing pits outside when it should, in theory, be available, (Rajora 2002), and Information Kiosks
their village centers, by digging shallow long distance calls to nearby towns may (Jhunjhunwala 1999; Sood 2001).
trenches, filling them with salt, and mak- be required in order to achieve true con- In Jhunjhunwala’s terms (2003), they
ing sure they are watered on dry sunny nectivity. Poor telephony ensures that ‘accumulate demand,’ by providing a range
days. Constant maintenance of this pri- modem speeds are often restricted to 28.8 of services – in health, education, govern-
vately constructed earthing pit is necessary kbps or slower. The wireless-fax system in ance, infotainment to name a few – at a
to ensure that the equipment within is Pondicherry runs even slower, at under single location. Conversely, information
protected from power surges. 14.4 kbps. kiosks also ensure that the same hardware
(ii) Telephony: Landline telephones are While WLL technologies will soon be
still not available in many villages in South able to provide simultaneous and contin-
Asia. Where they do exist they may be uous voice and data connectivity in local
down for weeks at a time, and there may areas, computer kiosks in villages can also
be other kinds of incompatibilities, which be designed so as to require only limited
prevent data transfer. connectivity. Projects in Pondicherry and
Several different kinds of short-term Warana, for example, allow users to access Soochak at the Gyandoot
solutions are possible to circumvent low offline content, which is updated several Soochanalaya
teledensity in rural areas. A project in Pon-
dicherry has implemented a wireless sys-
tem for relatively slow data transfer using
fax protocols. Short bursts of these wire-
less transmissions update the off-line con-
tent available at the village center. The
various educational enterprises of Zee In-
teractive Learning Systems plan to rely on
Very Small Aperture Terminals (V-SATs),
which connect directly to their own com-
munications satellites. The Gyandoot
project in Dhar, on the other hand, ini-
tially chose its target villages on the basis
Photo © CKS 2003

of their telephone access, and their loca-

tion relative to proposed Optical-Fiber
Cable (OFC) routes.
Although it is possible to design rural

May – June 2003 | 17

and connectivity costs are distributed kiosks can become part of larger informa- bility-financial, organizational, and com-
across a large number of rural users, there- tional flows that result in virtuous cycles munity-acceptance, relate to each other.
by reducing the per capita costs of such that can accelerate and transform the very V. Balaji’s study of an information center
access (Sood 2002). Kiosks have the po- ways in which rural societies are conceptu- project in Pondicherry attempts an assess-
tential to transform the economics of alized, administered, and empowered. Ki- ment of technology, training, user patterns,
building institutional infrastructure in ru- osks could prove to be the touchstone that divergent use of media, content and serv-
ral areas of the developing world by pro- transforms an underdeveloped rural coun- ices, as well as gender. There is also some
viding remote access to institutions that tryside into an intelligent landscape newly user need analysis. Jhunjhunwala (1999)
may be located in larger towns nearby. self-aware of its own possibilities and needs. extensively discusses cost and technology
They thus have the potential to transform as well as operational issues, business plan-
the biggest problem of rural political econ- Critical review of secondary ning, and ownership structures.
omy – the distribution of small popula- research Roman and Colle (2002) make an im-
tions across large areas – by ensuring that Much of the discourse surrounding tele- portant distinction between cybercafes and
a single resource is distributed across an centers remains focused on formulating internet kiosks. Our own field experienc-
increasingly large number of users. Ma- appropriate public and international poli- es would strongly support this conclusion:
clay and Best (2001) have also argued that cy. Large hypotheses regarding their ben- information kiosks are delivery platforms
information kiosks can bring the ‘Metcal- efit to underdeveloped communities for content and service applications that
fe Effect’ to bear on the rural countryside, remain to be substantiated by sufficient are truly needed in the rural environments.
by increasing the connectedness of diverse field research data. And while an abun- It is only through the efficient delivery of
parties transacting with one another over dance of discussion on field research meth- these services that the kiosk operator is
long distances. The Indian state has repeat- odology is to be found, principally actually able to earn revenue and turn prof-
edly asserted that such information cent- sponsored by the IDRC, more sophisti- it. In order to achieve a state of providing
ers can improve quality as well as access to cated analysis of cultural values, commu- maximal content services, it is important
government services. And several kiosk im- nicative pattern change and informational to establish partnerships with relevant serv-
plementation agencies have attempted to mapping remain to be conducted by new ice providers. Our research has spent many
reduce the ‘noise’ in rural markets by pro- groups of researchers whose primary ob- hours in the field painstakingly identify-
viding information on the pricing of agri- jectives are not merely the programmatics ing potential partners in a project for pro-
cultural commodities. The information and pragmatics of telecenter sustainability. viding locally relevant content in areas
kiosk has thus become a new topos for di- Although most reports from the field such as healthcare, livestock management,
verse discourses on rural economy, society take on the character of limited mono- agricultural counseling, parcel delivery
and politics, while also emerging as the graphs which do not then compare expe- services and local governance. Such tie-ups
most likely site for the installation of new riences of one project to another would enable maximizing the provision of
kinds and scales of hardware and software (Benjamin 2001, Mayanja 1999), impor- content services in kiosks and in turn im-
commodities specifically designed for non- tant exceptions may also be found. Peter prove their viability, sustainability and even
traditional users. Benjamin (2000), for example, provides a profitability. Roman and Colle also call for
Kiosks can also be used as optics to col- multisited comparative study, which focus- a continual and multidisciplinary research
lect data about rural areas, and to moni- es on Africa. Meddie Mayanja (2000) ex- work. Today, any truly world-standard re-
tor the delivery of goods and services to pands the concept of sustainability, search attempt to benchmark information
populations served by them (Sood 2003). bringing in training, human resources, and centers needs to be multidisciplinary. An-
This potential benefit of information ki- credit line components in Africa. Scott alysts from fields as diverse as Right to
osks has received much less attention, ei- Robinson’s (1998) analysis of the telecenter Information, Organizational Strategy and
ther in theory or practice. When perceived movement in Mexico indicates that tele- Planning, GIS, Ethnography and Interface
in this way, we begin to see information centers may not be readily promoted as Design must collaborate to develop self-
kiosks as a node along a larger networked official development programs due to po- sustainable and self-replicating model for
landscape that collects, manages, distrib- litical restrictions of postcolonial regimes information centers.
utes and organizes information in ways in bringing information to public access. Sundeep Sahay (1997) notes a clear
that may be visualized or represented in Proenza, Montero and Bastidas-Buch shift in IT research away from the func-
new ways, either within that landscape or (2001) compare some of the main telecent- tionalist perspective which believed in the
without, for planning, monitoring, evalu- er experiments in Latin America with par- seamless transferability of a given technol-
ation, or for the purpose of any other stra- ticular reference to Central America and ogy from one location to another, to the
tegic intervention. Such management, the Caribbean. Harris has written and present acceptance of the fact of how so-
dissemination and visualization of infor- traveled widely. R.W. Harris, A. Kumar cial and institutional context must be seen
mation or information-based services, fur- and V. Balaji discuss financial and opera- as constitutive of the information center.
thermore, vastly enhances equity within tional issues. Theirs is a case study ap- He further elucidates the ways social space
the system, while also increasing transpar- proach, with particular attention being is constructed: i.e. its inflection both by
ency and accountability. In this way, rural paid to how different modes of sustaina- its temporality as well as the social forces

18 i4d | May – June 2003

of geography, location, relationships of erved groups. Effectively no organized con-
distance, as well as relationships of domi- tent or service options are to be found
nation – a variable power structure that is therein. Telecenter Franchises operate as
often not modeled into an analysis of sus- entrepreneurial installations tied to a cen-
tainability. In this context, he also discusses tral coordinating agency. No special sup-
GIS as misleading in its illusion of the port or content service options are
control of mapped space. assumed. Civic Telecenters are located
Shirin Madon’s prescient (1992), stud- within existing public institutions, such as
ies in detail an early program intended to libraries or universities, and may offer pub-
increase the efficacy of decentralized ad- lic access. Multipurpose Community Tel- Figure 1 The
ministration by using computerized rural ecenters, on the other hand, are the most distribution of
telecentres and
information data. The significance of her highly developed genus of the species, of- kiosks
approach lies in its detailed study of the fering specialized services such as telemed-
unfolding in institutional terms of what icine and teleducation in addition to direct
this computerization effectively means. access.
Institutional issues of training, monitor- Our own typology, however, requires Figure 2
ing and evaluation, are discussed, and the only four grades: Cybercafe, Telecenter,
thrust of her critique is that the effectivity Monologic Kiosk, and Information Kiosk.
of the program is ultimately shaped not Individual entrepreneurs set up Cyberca-
by the intentions and processes formally fes (CC) without any connection to a state
laid down for the program, but rather the or development agency. Communications
more prosaic difficulties of dealing with services are the principal source of reve-
“intractable rural issues” like the lack of a nue, whether via voice, data, paper, fax,
methodology to, for example, i) justly typing or any other means. Abundant ex-
identify beneficiaries ii) set reasonable tar- amples of this kind already exist in urban
gets iii) carry out an updated village or as well as rural areas of India. Telecenters
household survey. Madon’s chief insight (TC), however, are tied into some kind of Kiosk installations in India
is the divide between institutional/pro- developmental agency, and are beholden and abroad
gram and extra institutional/rural field to them for the services and activities they
flows. This points to the need for a multi engage in. The M. S. Swaminathan Vil-
disciplinary understanding of the kiosk as lage Knowledge Centers, and the Dhan
existing in an organic relationship of both Foundation kiosks in Melur Madurai may
provider (of content and services) and in- be recognized as Indian exemplars of this
terpreter/data collector of the rural world. type. Monologic Kiosks (MK) offer only
Informal flows may be seen less as an in- one kind of service to only one kind of
stitutional aberration and more as a lack transaction partner, and may or may not
of insight into rural praxis, and needs. This offer Internet access to these select indi- Trend of growth of kiosk installations in
is a gap that research needs to fill in its viduals. The Bhoomi Project installations India and abroad
quest to mark out the contours of the in- and the various ITC installations, includ-
telligent, reflexive landscape. ing E-Chaupal, Soy-Chaupal and Aqua-
Chaupal all serve farmers, providing them
Types of kiosk installations either with land records, or online agri-
In order to create a working definition of cultural services. They do not, however,
a telecenter or information kiosk, we built service the wider community in any way,
on Gomez, Hunt and Lamoureux (1999), nor provide multiple kinds of services. True
who provided the first effective typology Information Kiosks (IK), on the other
of telecenters. The authors identify 5 types hand, seek to offer basic communications
of centers: Cybercafes, Basic Telecenters, services in addition to a range of different
Telecenter Franchises, Civic Telecenters, kinds of content and services that benefit di- Trend of growth of
kiosk installations in India
and Multipurpose Community Telecent- verse groups within the local community.
ers. Cybercafes and Basic Telecenters ap-
pear very similar to one another, differing Name Type Short Network Agency Services Offerings
only in the extent to which a communi- Cybercafe I CC Individual Entrepreneur Commercial Internet Access
tarian, collective, or developmental aspect Telecenter II TC Developmental Basic Communications Services
is to be found in the installation, and ex- Monologic Kiosk III MK Private (or) Public One Type of Service
tent to which it actually caters to unders- Information Kiosk IV IK Multi-sectoral Range of Services

May – June 2003 | 19

The two pie charts in Figure 1 depict which could be smaller or larger – our sta-
the distribution of Telecenters and Kiosks tistic records rural or non-elite individu-
among the last three of the four typologi- als who were actually involved in an
cal categories that we introduced above. IT-enabled transaction mediated by a com-
Whereas Monologic Kiosks are most abun- puter operator, plus students of any age
dant in India, they represent only a quar- who might have received some on or of-
ter of international kiosks. This also reflects fline training or education with or through
the relatively poor involvement of the pri- a computer. We record a little over five
Fig 3: Trends of installations and ICT users
vate sector as well as government agencies, thousand such computer installations for
which would actually provide such single educational, public, or developmental use
axis services. Nevertheless, it is notable that across South Asia. We expect this number
there appear to be about a comparable pro- to grow geometrically for the remainder
portion of true Information Kiosks in In- of the decade. We expect that this will be
dia and abroad. possible on account of a range of new con-
nectivity solutions, coupled with new
Analysis of findings hardware created for local conditions, es-
As part of this research program, CKS staff pecially in the ‘CC’ or community com-
Fig 4: Focus areas of the ICT projects conducted desk and online research on Tel- puter (multiuser) mode, as well as the new
ecenters in India and around the world. availability of Indian language operating
This section presents preliminary findings systems and applications.
from 63 projects. While we have made eve-
ry effort to ensure that this search is ex- Content and Services Offerings
haustive, there may be more international Kiosks outside India, tend to focus on ed-
projects than we have been able to docu- ucation and training , while those within
ment. Future research at these kiosk loca- India appear to offer a more diverse set of
tions might allow us to more effectively content and services (see figure 4). This too
Fig 5: Role of different sectors in ICT projects benchmark the management and planning appears to indicate that India is far ahead
of kiosk installations. of other developing regions in the world
in terms of the networking of its rural land-
Regional Findings scape.
Over half of all kiosk initiatives are locat-
ed in India, with others spread through- Implementing Agency and
out other developing-country regions such Funding
as Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. As shown in figure 5, India’s private sector is
The trend of growth, moreover, seems to in- more aggressively involved in kiosk installa-
dicate that kiosk installation projects are ac- tions, than elsewhere. NGOs have a prima-
Fig 6: Role of different sectors in ICT projects
tually growing more quickly within India ry role in both cases, but govern an absolute
than in the rest of the world combined! majority of projects outside India.
Even within India, CKS analysis reveals From figure 6, it is notable that the In-
that projects are concentrated more to- dian government has a hand in several
wards South India, which includes And- projects, while international governments
hra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and are less so.
Kerala. The rest is sparsely distributed
across north India, particularly in Mahar- Enabling Technology
ashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Projects outside India appear to be using
Fig 7: Distribution of various technologies used growth trend also indicates a quicker rise broadband and wireless technologies more
of kiosk installations in the southern states than installations in India. Several inter-
(see figure 2). national projects appear to have been set
up as pilot or demonstration initiatives,
Installations and Users which do not achieve sustainability due to
We estimate that no less than 5.7 million high connectivity costs (see figure 7).
(57 lakh) non-elite or rural citizen-con- The final bar chart in figure 8, repre-
sumers benefited from ICT-enabled sents the use of special kinds of hardware
projects actually documented within our and peripherals at kiosk installations. No
Fig 8: Usage of various hardware database. Figure 3 should not be confused appreciable difference between the Indian
and peripherals in kiosks
for an estimate of rural internet usage, and world case is apparent.

20 i4d | May – June 2003

Grounding Future Research isting hypotheses regarding the emergence guide future cycles of installation. In this way,
It would appear the installation of many of wealth effects owing to the activities and we believe that India’s early advantages in the
new information kiosks in the rural Indi- transactions made possible by kiosk net- I4D sector can be reinvested in the growth
an countryside should be a cause for some works. of this sector around the world.
excitement, and we should be enthused by The achievements of kiosk based initia-
the fact that the Indian ICT4D climate tives within India can only be brought to an
appears to be excelling other developing international scale through the detailed doc- The author would like to acknowledge
country contexts. But many serious ques- umentation, research and benchmarking the contribution of Uma Chan-
tions remain, first about the sustainability of existing initiatives, alongside careful drasekharan and Nikhil Govind of the
of kiosks, and second about their actual social profiling and social research activi- Center for Knowledge Societies, for
social and economic impact. Finally, we ties conducted at those sites. The I4D ex- their work on primary research and
would like to know how to transfer tech- pertise, in other words, that India already illustrations, as well as the editing of
nical as well as developmental expertise enjoys in the implementation must be ab- this article.
built up in India to other parts of the de- stracted into research and strategy, so as to
veloping world.
If our preliminary data is correct, ki-
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Understanding The Relationship Between Icts And
shape their environments, even as they are Development: Sustainable Telecentres: Two Cases . (2002) CKS Guide to ICTs for
defined by their existing contexts. We be- From India. Development. Center for Knowledge Societies.
lieve that the collection of data organized node/133831/sdm/docview?docid=442648 Bangalore, India.
in spatial or geographical terms can help
us track these transformations, as they oc- Footnotes
cur over time. At several locations in In- i
dia, we therefore hope to be able to track ii
these changes in the kiosk as well as the Outlook Magazine, April 23, 2001
community over time, in order to test ex- As above

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