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June 16, 2005Plan to Connect Rural India to the InternetBy JOHN MARKOFF SAN FRANCISCO, June 15 - An international consortium, including Indian and American companies as well as the World Bank, is planning to establish thousands of rural Internet centers in India to bring government, banking and education services to isolated villages.The project, to be announced Thursday, is intended to bring Internet-based services to individuals who must often travel long distances to conduct banking or business with the government. It is being undertaken by Comat Technologies, an Indian provider of Internet services; ICICI Bank, India's second- largest commercial bank; and Wyse Technology of San Jose, Calif., which makes computer terminal equipment.The goal is to serve rural villages with populations of more than 5,000. Ultimately the plan calls for centers or kiosks in 5,000 villages in the state of Karnataka; Bangalore, the Indian high-technology center, is the capital of Karnataka. The project, subsidized by the state government, will include money to train residents in computer skills. It comes after some disappointing results of earlier efforts to bridge the digital divide, which separates the Internet-connected world from less-developed areas.The centers, connected to the Internet by either land lines or satellite links, are each to consist of 5 to 10 inexpensive "thin clients," simple computer displays that are more rugged and less expensive than personal computers. The project will begin with a technical demonstration in 4 villages, and then be extended to 20 others, according to Andi Dervishi, an investment officer at the Global Information and Communication Technologies division of the World Bank. He said the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank would act initially as a nonfinancial partner but was hoping to be able to finance the growth of the project if the early trials go well.John Kish, the president and chief executive of Wyse, said thin clients, also called network computers, have long been held out as a promising low-cost way to deliver Internet content and computer services. The falling cost of PC's has until now made them financially unattractive.