Monday, August 27

Rural Kiosks

~ Raina

Intel has committed to rolling out 1 lakh kiosks across India in the next couple of years. Microsoft has committed to 50,000 of them across the country. These kiosks will provide a number of services including:

  • Government services such as access to land records and birth & death certificates
  • Health Services such as referrals to hospitals
  • Agricultural Services such as online consultation
  • Communication Services such as email and chat
  • Commercial Services such as digital photography and matrimonial services
  • Entertainment Services such as music and movies
  • Desktop Publishing
  • Education content such as language literacy

There is a lot of hype around these rural kiosks. But, you have to wonder… is the hype really valid?

What is the point of these kiosks? Essentially it is to help bridge the digital divide. This will help decrease the asymmetry of information between the poor and the rich. A farmer can find out if he’s getting a fair price for this produce or a young job seeking youth can research various options when trying to figure out what to do. This information helps generate higher incomes, which I think we all can agree is a good thing.

Most of these kiosks run on a franchise model. So a local person would run these kiosks and pay a royalty to the parent company. In return the parent company would provide the necessary hardware, software, and support. Currently there are about 15,000 kiosks throughout India.

Right now, there are a handful of companies that are into this space. The problem is that all of these companies do everything themselves. So that means they develop the hardware as well as the software that goes on there kiosks. If they provide job placement services, then they also set up the back end operations to support that. There is just no specialization hence no one becomes really good at anything.

These companies have to put resources into developing the hardware and software, conducting market research to figure out what exactly the needs are, finding a local entrepreneur to run these kiosks, etc. Trust me this is not a cheap proposition; especially if you want good, capable people to do the work.

These inefficiencies increase cost. And the revenue from these kiosks is currently quite low. Though, 82% of the kiosks report profits, most of them make less than Rs. 2000 per month. This goes to show that though some the services are being used by the population, the services provided need to be more relevant. More research needs to go into what the needs are and how technology can really help these people move up the economic ladder.

Luckily, it seems as though the trend in this space is moving towards the positive end. Microsoft has already started developing an OS for these rural kiosks and is working with individual software vendors to come up with software and content to put on the rural kiosks. So some specialization is starting I guess. But that is just the beginning; the problems are many. Lack of infrastructure such as frequent power outages and no internet connectivity are rampant in rural areas. If a person can’t read, then what will a kiosk do for them? A lot of the current content is in Hindi or English, which can be quite irrelevant in many parts of the country.

The time right now is not to just delve into the problems but to figure out the solutions. We at HiWEL are trying to do just that.

Details to follow...


PrajK said...

Hey Raina.

Cool post. You've hit on some of the things that I'm studying, actually. Many people have investigated how science and technology gets absorbed into developing countries. Western scientists often assume that technologies can be easily absorbed into different countries, and that that these technologies will always improve the situation. Of course, we know it's a lot more complicated than that. You should check out some of the writing by Andrew Barnett:

Let me know if you want to read more about how science/technology interacts with developing countries.

Raina said...

Thanks. :) Yes definitley want to read more on this. Please send links.