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Cellphone Entertainment Takes Off in Rural India

Published on November 23, 2009
by Eric Bellman

In the furthest reaches of India’s rural heartland, the cellphone is bringing something that television, radio and even newspapers couldn’t deliver: Instant access to music, information, entertainment, news and even worship.

Despite its rapid modernization, many of India’s 750,000 villages remain isolated except for the cellphone reception that now blankets almost the entire country after a decade of rapid expansion by operators. So in villages that don’t receive any FM radio stations, people have begun calling a number that has a recording of Bollywood tunes and listening to it on their headsets.

This primitive cellular “radio” service was used by close to 20 million Indians last year, phone company executives estimate.

“I call it the poor man’s iTunes,” says Mahesh Prasad, president of Reliance Communications Ltd., one of India’s largest cellular companies. “A villager waiting for a bus has nothing to do. When he wants to kill some time, this is the only entertainment media available.”

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