Rural mobile services get click in Bengal, NGO becoming catalyst

The Grameen Sanchar Sewak (GSS) scheme, an ambitious pilot project to introduce rural mobile services kickstarted by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Lmited (BSNL) and the Department of Posts in 2002, is ready to be regularised and go national, after a resounding triumph in the Indian state West Bengal.

The GSS scheme, which began with the idea of employing rural postmen to carry mobile phones from door-to-door in 12,001 villages,  became a logistical nightmare in billing and collection for BSNL, and so, it tapped into the 7,000-strong network of self-employed people that Grameen Sanchar Society (Grasso), a non-governmental organisation uses to carry phones to far-flung locations. Grasso subsidized by BSNL for the GSS scheme has provided mobile reach to 93 per cent of West Bengal's 34 Blocks, 46 per cent of its Gram Panchayats and 14 per cent of its villages. Post-launch surveys by BSNL say, not only are the traffic volumes far higher on GSS mobiles in West Bengal than on individual mobile connections, their recovery rate is also nearly twice the usual (45 per cent in rural areas) at close to 98 per cent. Grasso is now in talks with Microsoft, IBM, Wipro and TCS to support the common service centres (CSCs) in the state's 3,357 gram panchayats. The plan is to have 3 GSS phones in each panchayat, totalling 12,000 phones, resulting in 100 per cent telephone coverage.