Times News Network, 15th March 03

NEW DELHI: In a remote village in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, life hasn’t been the same ever since the “gram-phone” made an appearance in many households nine months ago.

The world is within talking distance for nearly 200 households of Kalleda village – they now have access to a telephone in their own homes.

This isn’t all. Connectivity has come at a low cost for the rural poor, with each household having to shell out just Rs 12.50 a month for a “gram-phone” in their house. They can make 30 outgoing calls and receive an unlimited number of incoming calls each month.

This endeavour to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas has come about thanks to a pilot project launched in this village by an NGO, the Rural Telecom Foundation.

The details of this project were shared by Madan Mohan Rao of the Foundation during the on-going partnership conclave on “Governance and its relationship with poverty reduction” here.

The Foundation says in rural areas, there is only one phone per 100 people. It also says that there are nearly 25,000 Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) rural exchange centres in the country which are under-utilised.
Also, people living in rural areas find even the subsidised telephone rentals and tariff structures beyond their reach.

BSNL helped execute this project for which the Foundation gave each household an initial subsidy of Rs 900 for the telephone’s registration and installation.

The Madhya Pradesh government has approached the Foundation to replicate the Kalleda experiment in some rural areas of the state.

Rao said the aim of the pilot project was to provide affordable telephony solutions using “party lines”. A “party line”, as described in the Indian Telegraph Act, basically means “a telephone connection where two or more parties share a common line to a departmental exchange”.