Microsoft has announced a new program in India, called Saksham, that aims to set up internet kiosks that offer localised content and applications. The program's focus is rural India, where 70 per cent of the country's population lives.

Previous initiatives to set up internet kiosks in rural India were not successful because kiosk operators lacked a large revenue stream, said Ranjivjit Singh, group director of the consumer business of Microsoft India. Many of the kiosks were set up only with e-governance applications in mind, he added.

Microsoft research, which included putting 1,000 kiosks in the field, revealed that rural users have the disposable income to pay for a variety of services if they are relevant and available in the local languages, Singh said.

Once the rural areas have the infrastructure, and the relevant services and content are available, some users may want to buy PCs for their homes, Singh added.

Microsoft plans to have 50,000 kiosks, which will be provided to local entrepreneurs through bank financing, across India in the next three years. The company plans to introduce 7,000 kiosks in the first year, 20,000 additional kiosks in the second year and 23,000 kiosks in the third year.

"Our target is that entrepreneurs who run these kiosks should be cash flow positive in three to six months, by being able to offer a variety of services that people in rural India can use," Singh said. Kiosks that were set up without relevant content, services and other required elements have not made a profit even after three years, he added.

The kiosks will run the Windows XP operating systems or its lower cost, stripped-down version Windows XP Starter Edition. Where telephone connectivity is not available, Microsoft will provide VSAT (very small aperture terminal) internet connectivity through a partner company, Singh said.

Microsoft's primary role will be to bring together ISVs (independent software vendors), banks, the government and hardware vendors, according to Singh.

Microsoft and its partners plan to offer several services through the kiosks, such as land records, birth and death certificates, health services, agriculture services and education services.