Villages Jump on the Internet Bus

Jun 01, 2010
*Special to asia!

Some companies are using innovative ways to help people in rural areas get broadband and wireless access.

United Villages runs a service called DakNet. DakNet recruits and trains village merchants who may be running stores or motorcycle repair shops. As long as they have basic computer skills and are deemed suitable, these merchants are then set up with microfinance, a PC and cordless phones.

The trouble is, these villages lack the communications infrastructure to link them to the Web. DakNet solved the “missing link” to the villages by partnering with the bus companies that ply regular routes to these villages. The buses are installed with Wi-Fi equipment, which pick up and send e-mails, Web searches and voice mail each time they pass by the village merchants’ kiosks.

While the e-mail solution may be obvious, how do the villagers do Web searches “offline”?

Well, a customer enters a search on the browser at the village store, which the bus picks up when it passes by. Then, at the town with the DakNet server and internet connection, the search is carried out through the search engines, the top searches are collected, stripped of its adverts and other unnecessary data, compressed again via the buses as they pass by and sent back to the user. Yes, it is slow and cumbersome, but the alternative was no information at all.

How do you make money from all this? Pre-paid cards. DakNet sells pre-paid cards to the village shops and buses at a discounted price; the vendors then mark them up and make some money out of that. A DakNet pre-paid card costs 50 Indian rupees (about US$1.26), which gives the user a phone number and an e-mail ID. A simple e-mail costs one rupee while attachments cost three.



DakNet and EasySeva appear off to a promising start. Drishtree, on the other hand, has been at it for seven years. It now runs more than 1,000 kiosks in villages throughout India. Drishtree is thus in a powerful position to use the current confluence of wireless technology and other enablers, combine it with their know-how and installed base, and rapidly increase growth.

Drishtee now provides microfinance loan applications and processing, insurance services and even an e-marketplace, where village artisans can sell their crafts directly to customers, bypassing the middleman and making better profits.

Some 3 billion people live in rural areas, according to current global estimates. The private sector is showing a way to augment public services by building self-sustaining businesses that can significantly change the lives of villagers. A low-cost setup, local entrepreneurship, microfinance, and using the right technology applications are the crucial factors for success.

At the moment, voice and e-mail services seem to be most sought after. In the near future, remittances, microfinance, insurance, and education will be key. Riding on the advances made in wireless technology and the growth in public-sector services, village entrepreneurship is going places.



*Note: The story first appeared in asia!'s February 2008 print issue.


norman miranda

Currently a head hunter for the high tech industry, Norman Miranda has spent the last 27 years in various roles all in the IT and Telecommunications industry. He travels whenever time and money allows. Norman continues on his quest to cover every major wine growing region in the world.