In this article we will discuss the introduction and essentials of internet and communication technologies (ICT).
Introduction to ICT:
Much of rural India is cut off from the winds of modernization and development. Villages remain pictures of neglect despite efforts of the government and other organizations. Urban-oriented government policy and media does little service to India’s villages. Government intervention in agriculture by way of subsidies and restrictions end up squeezing none else but farmers and consumers. Suspicion of modern methods result in very little change in the way business in villages is done. Agriculture and all aspects related to its value chains thus remain poorly developed.
A game changer in this scenario could well be ICT. Such technologies have opened ways of connecting villages, providing them with crucial information regarding their livelihoods, engaging them, empowering them through e-governance and even improving rural livelihoods. All these open up new avenues of rural marketing.
Till now, only a few companies have used ICT in a big way in villages. Some of these initiatives, such as ITC’s e-choupal, Amul’s supply chain integration and HUL’s Kan Khajura Tesan. Other companies use new technologies for gains in efficiencies in logistics and distribution. Others hope that as smartphone penetration increases in villages, they will get easy access to rural markets.
It is, however, quite obvious that only companies that come up with innovative approaches will succeed. An urban approach to hooking customers through apps and services may not quite work. While smartphones do help in providing access to goods and services, physical delivery of these to remote villages will continue to be a challenge.
Rural areas have been neglected over the years and generally lag behind urban areas in terms of infrastructure and services. In India, rural isolation and deprivation negatively impacts growth and has created tensions in society.
ICTs can overcome many of these problems and remove the infrastructural constraints that have plagued villages since long. They can help people in rural areas to connect with the local, regional and national economy and to access markets, provide banking/financial services and employment opportunities. These technologies serve as an awareness creation instrument. They serve as a channel of delivery of government services, thus bridging the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
ICTs have three essentials in rural areas, which can be remembered by the 3Cs:
3. Capacity building.
The first necessity of ICT is to connect millions of people by providing them basic telephony. Getting phone connections prior to liberalization posed a big problem and villages remained cut-off. Fortunately, they are leapfrogging into a new era – people can now buy mobile phones where even landlines were not available.
The telecommunications revolution unleashed by a liberal policy environment in India has helped in the rapid growth of rural tele-density. The smartphone has become cheaper and popular and is connecting people in villages. As mobile services expand, traders and farmers will have better access to markets and the outside world.
Universal telecommunications access is now seen as a necessary condition for bringing about improved development and increase in socio-economic status of rural folk. Mobile phones and related services thus need to be available and affordable and operators are making efforts to do both.
Several companies are working towards providing connectivity. Reliance Jio has made data services cheaper for deep penetration; projects like the Google Loon are trying to make connectivity easier. Rural connectivity holds key to rural development through providing locally relevant information, engaging and empowering local communities, providing methods to improve health, education, promoting trade and e-commerce and supporting good governance.
Smartphones can be useful only when relevant and usable content is available to rural people, which they can access and make use of. Though many portals and apps are available, many of them provide static and outdated content. Moreover, content has to be in local languages. Often it is translated, which results in bizarre outcomes. Content access has also to be provided through shared PCO type public access points to serve those who do not have a smartphone.
3. Capacity Building:
Capacity building helps in developing rural markets. Initiatives to improve education and enhancing incomes are essential because without them, there would only be a small percentage of rural population who would benefit from connectivity. These are the literate people who can afford smartphones or laptops. IT schemes should therefore necessarily include things such as education and income enhancement. Merely providing connectivity and content is not enough. Google Internet Saathi is an example of capacity building in this field.
The first step is to recognize telecom and broadband connectivity as a basic necessity and to develop an ecosystem for broadband to ensure its availability. Low cost content services help in the spread. Experience from other countries is helpful – for example, in Singapore, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) is responsible for the telecoms, media and technology industries.
The MCI oversees the activities of two statutory bodies- the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore and the Media Development Authority (MDA). The IDA is responsible for the development, promotion and regulation of the info-communications industry, which includes the telecoms and IT sectors. The MDA is responsible for the regulation of broadcast content. India could consider such a model for the adoption of broadband and content development.