UK based Worldtel is planning to set up community Internet centres throughout the Tamil Nadu, a southern state in India.
The state government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the company and Tamil Nadu will be the first state of several to embark on such a venture.
According to the chief minister of the state, M Karunanidhi: "This is a major step towards mass application of information technology and is an initiative to take Tamil Nadu into the twenty first century."
The centres would provide affordable access to information and communication facilities. "We will be networking hundreds of villages and towns in Tamil Nadu with each other and the rest of the world," Karunanidhi said.
The sites are essentially public access centres run on franchise. Each centre will have two to 20 PCs and will offer business services like fax, photocopying, email and ecommerce.
The minister said that the "American online model", whereby individuals owned PCs and had dedicated lines, was not suited to developing countries.
The project chief, Sam Pitroda, said Worldtel would prepare a detailed business plan over the next 90 days and would bring in foreign investment to the tune of $50 to $60 million.
Pitroda says Worldtel would join forces with the state owned Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (Elcot) for the project. "We may also find a local partner, even as we bring in technology and foreign capital," he said. The plan is to have at least 1,000 centres, each costing $25,000-$37,500.
Similar projects are being negotiated with the governments of Kerala and West Bengal, Pitroda said.
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