PCOs to e-kiosks

October 13, 2008

BSNL has tied up with Intel to upgrade PCOs into electronic information and transaction kiosks

Soon, there will be more reasons for you to walk into a public call office (PCO) in Bangalore than just to make a call. Hundreds of PCOs in the city and elsewhere in Karnataka are now set to be upgraded into e-kiosks in order to provide multiple utility services to customers like booking travel tickets, pay a variety of taxes, chat, browse and much more.

The state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., (BSNL) has tied up with Intel, the world’s largest chip-maker, and the Karnataka PCO Owners Association to enable PCO operators to upgrade into electronic information and transaction kiosks.

The agreement paves way for any PCO operator having a BSNL connection to upgrade to e-kiosks by making a token investment. With an upfront investment of Rs.10,000 in hardware and software and about Rs. 35, 000 for setting up a new e-PCO or scaling up the present one, an operator can provide services like voice calls, Internet, chat, e-mail and video-conferencing.

“The e-PCOs will be equipped with a full-fledged information system with a PC, a webcam, a broadband link and a printer to provide a host of online services in English and Indian languages,” T. S. Kuppuswamy, chief general manager, BSNL, Karnataka circle said.

“With a multiple pre-paid card from ItzCash, even customers who are not
computer-literate can buy bus, railway and airline tickets at a nominal service fee from any e-PCO with the help of its owner/franchisee who will be trained by Intel to operate the system,” he explained.

One e-PCO will be set up in each of the 29 districts across the state. Existing PCO operators having BSNL connection will be given a rental-free broadband link to convert their booths into e-kiosks.

S. V. Rajendra, president, Karnataka PCO Owners Association said that e-PCOs will also be permitted to transact utility payments for water, electricity and telephone. In addition, they will also be equipped to re-charge mobiles, sell insurance and banking products and offer online transactions for cinema tickets, cable subscriptions and video communication.

“There has been an overwhelming response to the upgradation offer from PCO operators and workshops will be organized for the operators to familiarize with the system. A PCO owner can earn a fair income for every e-transaction as he can charge a fee for accessing any information through Internet, browsing, chatting and e-mailing on minutes/hourly basis,” he said.

Rajendra said that the e-PCOs will not only bridge the digital divide with the latest technologies, but also generate self-employment to thousands of educated youth in
semi-urban and rural areas of Karnataka with increasing IT adoption.

“The e-initiative would prevent the closure of PCOs, whose numbers have been dwindling over the years due to the rapid penetration of mobile connectivity in the state”, he added.

As per the official statistics, as against one million PCOs with BSNL phones across the state a decade ago, only about 4,00,000 were operating currently as revenues have come down sharply.

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