Intel on Thursday unveiled a personal computer designed for use in India’s rural areas as part of an initiative to set up 200,000 internet kiosks over the next two years in villages across the country.
Intel’s computer chips and motherboard will be used in units manufactured by leading Indian companies Wipro Infotech and HCL Infosystems. The computers are designed to withstand extreme heat and can be powered by car batteries and stationary bicycles to overcome the problem of unreliable or non-existent power supplies in India’s villages.
“India is one of our fastest growing markets and the rural population is untapped today,” said Frank Jones, president of Intel’s India operations.
Intel’s move follows the recent launch of an almost identical scheme by Microsoft to roll out 50,000 kiosks in villages over the next three years. Microsoft will manage its rollout, while Intel will leave the establishment of the kiosks to its hardware partners.
Both US technology giants recently announced massive investments in India, and their initiatives to boost computer literacy and internet access in India’s rural areas will be financed from those funds.
The programmes will enable villagers to fill out government forms and apply for jobs over the internet in their local languages.
Microsoft said it would invest $1.7bn in India over the next four years, while Intel is funnelling $1bn into the nation in the next five years. Both companies have said their rural initiatives are business ventures and not solely philanthropic.
“We are absolutely interested in helping grant these communities internet access but it is a business model for us and our partners,” Mr Jones said.
India may have built up a formidable reputation as an IT powerhouse, but its rural population remains woefully under-represented in the digital revolution that swept through the country a decade ago.
India exported $17.7m in IT software and services in the 2004-05 financial year, and an estimated $23.4m in 2005-06, according to Nasscom data.
Nasscom, the country’s leading IT association, said about 7m have access to the internet in the villages, compared with 63m in urban locations.
Describing rural internet usage as “abysmally low”, Nasscom president Kiran Karnik said the programmes from Intel and Microsoft were an initial step in bridging the digital divide between India’s rural and urban populations.
“I think it’s a great start,” he said. “The real viability will come when they [the PCs] are used for transactions.”
Mr Karnik said villagers would benefit much more once they could use the internet to sell their products, such as a farmer selling grain, or buy something they needed. “Nobody is providing a platform for them to do it today,” he said.