Bangladesh's GrameenPhone says it will team up with entrepreneurs to roll out by year-end 500 information centers offering low-cost Internet access to 20 million people across rural Bangladesh.
Run by local entrepreneurs, each center will contain PCs connected to GrameenPhone's existing GSM network, which has been upgraded with EDGE technology.
The centers will be located in each Upazilla, or sub-district, of Bangladesh so that they are each within reach of up to 15 villages containing up to 40,000 people, said Erik Aas, CEO of GrameenPhone.
The announcement following a successful pilot conducted with the GSM Association's Development Fund, under which computers in 16 centers already established are used by an average of 30 people a day, who pay a small fee to access email or Web pages.
Bangladeshis use the centers for a wide variety of business and personal purposes, from accessing health and agricultural information to using government services to video conferencing with relatives overseas, Aas said.
Aas said the pilot demonstrated that there is considerable pent-up demand for Internet access in rural Bangladeshis, and that mobile networks are the best way to meet that demand. To help the entrepreneurs keep the cost of Internet access as low as possible, the centers also provide local people with other GrameenPhone services, such as payphones and electronic recharges for prepaid mobile accounts.
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