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|April 1, 1999
Maharashtra Chief Minister Narayan Rane will shortly discuss with World Tel Chairperson Sam Pitroda a scheme to spread the online culture in the state.
The proposal entails establishing 'cyber dhabas' (wayside inns) in the state. These will provide other communication services like fax, public call offices and photocopying along with easy access to the Internet at affordable rates for common people.
World Tel is selling the concept of 'Internet community centres' that could eventually stimulate the growth of the Web in the country. The proposals suggest the role of the government to be that of a catalyst.
World Tel has already initiated similar deals with the governments of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Existing attended public call offices would be offered the choice to scale up their facility to that of a cyber dhaba. This should mostly appeal to people in the low-income group.
On this issue, the state government's infotech policy is in line with the recommendations of the National Task Force on Software Development and Information Technology.
The task force report had proposed that small telephone booths be converted into cyber centres that offer Internet services. The government will act as a facilitator for such projects.
It is expected that the scheme will take off well in Maharashtra and generate employment because of the population profiles of Bombay and Pune.
Bombay is the financial capital of the whole country. Pune is an important centre for the computing industry. It is home to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing that pioneered India's supercomputer industry.
Rane believes that if the government participates well, a demand for online services will increase, thereby creating enough revenue to make projects commercially feasible.
The cyber dhaba scheme is perhaps too ambitious. It aims to get the Internet community centres to all, including the rural poor.
However, the state enjoys the credit of having the first of the wired villages in the country at Warnanagar, Kolhapur.
Pitroda's proposal promises that World Tel will create the infrastructure and build an organisation to operate the Internet community centres. World Tel is thinking on the lines of a company that will commercially collaborate with a nodal agency designated by the Maharashtra government.
World Tel will mobilise the required investment through discussions with its core investors and the Maharashtra government in a manner that meets objectives on a commercially sound basis.
It is proposed that the government will develop software and create databases to promote online application such as those for admission to schools and colleges, information on employment, healthcare, public distribution, housing information and land records.
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