From STD Booths to Information Kiosks

An IT Action plan submitted to the first NDA government in 1998 had envisaged a plan to “turn STD/ISD booths to information kiosks”. Considering that this was at a time when most of India did not have even a basic dial-up connection to the internet, it can be thought to be pretty far-sighted.

The PIB notification says:

Internet access nodes to be opened by DoT and authorised ISPs in all district headquarters by January 26, 2000, and, until then, Internet access from the nearest node on local call rates; upgradation of STD/ISD booths into full-service ‘information kiosks’ offering e-mail, voice mail and Internet; and permission for the Railways, Defence, State Electricity Boards, National Power Grid Corporation as well as organisations like ONGC, GAIL and SAIL to use their fibre optic backbone to provide service to the public by interfacing with existing or new public networks.

In a speech in 2004, towards the end of his full term, then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had mentioned the same idea. Speaking at the inauguration of the TIDEL Park in Chennai, he had said:

There is an urgent need to generate useful educational, commercial, and other types of content on the Internet in Indian languages. As an example, I would like to see information kiosks to become as common across the country as STD booths, where ordinary people can access e-mail in Indian languages and also receive useful information about programmes, schemes, and facilities made available by the Government, banks, and other institutions.

In 1998, after the panel had submitted its report, Vajpayee had set up a high-level ministerial committee to look into the recommendations and come up with an implementation plan. I’m not sure much came of it.

Speaking of STD booths and information kiosks, though, it is very interesting to see what New York is doing with its telephone booths. The Washington Post reports:

The city announced Monday that it had selected a consortium of advertising, technology and telecom companies to deploy throughout the city thousands of modern-day pay phones that will offer 24-hour, free gigabit WiFi connections, free calls to anywhere in the U.S., touch-screen displays with direct access to city services, maps and directions for tourists, and charging stations (for the cellphones you’d rather use). The devices will also be capable of connecting people straight to emergency responders, and broadcasting alerts from the city during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy.

This is very impressive. Rather than doing away with PCOs like they’ve done in the Netherlands, this seems like an extremely interesting way to make use of them. I hope we can implement some of these in India, too. Considering that it was under a BJP government that the STD Booth to Information Kiosk idea first came up, I hope that the current government takes steps to implement it.

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