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September 11, 1998


This Sam's not slowly: Days after promising 'Net community centres' to Tamilians, World Tel's Pitroda pitches a similar deal for Bengalis. London headquartered World Tel Chairman and CEO Sam Pitroda hopes to put in place a comprehensive network of 'Internet community centres' across West Bengal too.

Email this story to a friend. Earlier this week itself, he entered an identical deal with the government of Tamil Nadu.

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Now, in West Bengal, World Tel proposes to begin by setting up a minimum of 500 such 'Internet community centres'. Initial investments being talked about are in the range of Rs 2.5-3 billion ($60-70 million).

Pitroda called on the West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu on Tuesday to discuss the project. State Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta and Webel Chairman D Bandopadhyay were present at the meeting.

World Tel plans to float an independent company in the state with a view to help trigger the much-anticipated Internet boom in the region. It is likely to hold a majority stake in the proposed company, sources said.

World Tel was born at the initiative of the Geneva based International Telecom Union in an effort to structure and finance long-term telecom ventures in developing countries like India.

The principal shareholders in World Tel are GE Caps, American Insurance Group and Natwest.

"The outcome of my meeting with Mr Basu was very positive and the political will is clearly evident. Given his enthusiasm about our proposal, he will shortly get back to us, following which we will submit a detailed business plan to the government,'' Pitroda has been quoted as saying.

On the World Tel proposal, Pitroda said, "The basic concept is signing a memorandum of understanding with the state government for floating a separate company that will operate as a full-fledged Internet Service Provider in the region."

"Once we get the state go-ahead, World Tel will appoint a host of franchisees for setting up the 500-odd ICCs that will be on the STD/PCO booth model,'' he said.

Each access centre will be equipped with PCs, modems, telephones, fax machines and photocopiers. Typically, the Internet access charges are expected to be half the levels being charged by the plush 'cyber cafes' in the metros, currently at Rs 60 per hour, he said.

"I intend to take the Internet home across the remote reaches of Bengal at the lowest tariffs,'' Pitroda said. The Internet will be positioned as the fastest route for tackling school/college admissions, distributing food and essential commodities and processing passport applications to ration cards, he added.

World Tel, at present, is examining the state's telecom requirements, and will shortly scout for local software alliance partners to set up databases in Bengali and develop local software and Web sites to enhance the mass appeal of the Internet in the region, he said.

Despite increasing reluctance among global investors to take exposure in telecom ventures in India, World Tel believes the proposed Internet venture in West Bengal can generate a 30-35 per cent internal rate of return on equity, if the project is suitably structured, Pitroda said.

World Tel has signed an MoU with the Tamil Nadu government for setting up similar Internet community centres across the state. World Tel would be the dominant stakeholder in the $60 million venture. Private players and the Electronic Corporation of Tamil Nadu would hold the remaining 40 per cent.


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