NextBillion reposts an article from Businessweek which clarifies some of the news on OLPC in India:
In 2001, [Negroponte] came to India to promote the Media Lab, but failed to impress New Delhi. Negroponte clearly fell off the India map, when then-Information Technology Minister Arun Shourie dismissed his efforts as "pedagogically suspect" and wanted more accountability. When Negroponte's nonprofit One Laptop per Child foundation approached the Indian government in 2006, his project was again rebuffed by India's then-Education Secretary, Sudeep Banerjee (BusinessWeek.com, 8/16/06).
Two years later, Negroponte is back to open a new office in New Delhi and launch the OLPC program in India on Aug. 4. Despite all the rebuffs, Negroponte's urge to sell in India is stronger than ever. "India is the largest market for us, and I had to be here," he says. More important, Negroponte has a new partner—one of India's politically influential private-sector conglomerates.
This conglomerate, Reliance, is planning to combine state government funding as well as corporate donations in purchasing the laptops. Their model thus far is to sell XOs to NGOs which then donate the XOs to schools. That may sound uninteresting, but take this quote from one of these NGOs -- some thought (and - gasp - teacher training and curricula development!) is going into these more targeted deployments:
“It becomes viable only if you build an ecosystem around the laptop. You have to train teachers and build a curriculum around the XO,” says Nitish Rane, of the Swabhimaan NGO that runs schools in rural Maharashtra state. Rane has already deployed 100 XOs and plans to buy 500 more by yearend.
Sadly, it doesn't look like Negroponte is yet willing to un-tether the laptop from education:
The demand for the XOs is also coming from unusual quarters in different sectors. These include insurance agents, census representatives, and even rural outsourcing units eager to deploy the sturdy, easy-to-use laptops. No deal, says Negroponte: He is committed to providing the laptop only for education.
This is at odds with what Reliance has told the Indian press: Later this year, the XO laptops are expected to hit the retail stores. Sources say Reliance Communications, which partnered OLPC Foundation to conduct an XO pilot project in Maharashtra last year, is looking at retailing these laptops bundled with its CDMA modems.
I'm hopeful to see actual retail sales, but I'm not about to hold my breath. I've always maintained that the central downfall of the OLPC project was their strategy to spread the laptop via large government deals - almost insuring mismanagement, overwhelming numbers of laptops, and underfunded (at best) implementation strategies and curricula integration. In this new model in India, some of these concerns are finally dealt with in an innovative strategy.
Yet, as simply a low-cost computing device that can be sold, you suddenly enable many exciting possibilities, especially with the GPRS-modem-included models rumored to be part of the India deployment, opening up a BoP style approach could provide true sustainability and scale for the XO laptops.