The Internet in India is still growing too slowly. Some of the earlier columns [http://tech.samachar.com/archives/001113-17.html] have addressed the issue of how we can impact 100 million Indians via the Internet in the next 3 years. In 2001, many of the components are expected to fall in place: low-cost access devices (email-only devices, PDAs, cellphones, set-top boxes connected to TVs), access networks (cable connectivity, GPRS networks), and cybercafes and Internet community centres. Access costs have now fallen to less than Rs 5 per hour (excluding telecom costs of Rs 25 per hour). 2001 should therefore see a dramatic growth in the Internet usage in India.
We are also seeing applications which can truly make a difference to people’s lives and remove pain from their daily life. Bill Payments are now being offered in many cities by telephone and electricity companies. Many government departments make available forms for downloading. Video mail can bridge the people who come to the cities to work with their families in the villages.
A killer combination in India would be Linux, Language and Localisation – using Linux as the operating system and other open source software to cut down software costs, providing information in the local language, and offering services of relevance to the local community.
As access becomes more ubiquitous and cheaper, the Internet will start becoming more and more a part of people’s lives. Look at what has happened in Korea: a third of the 48 million population has Internet access and over half of the people use cellphones. Broadband penetration has reached 3 million homes, second only to the US. Here’s how it came about (TIME, December 11 issue — http://www.time.com/time/asia/magazine/2000/1211/cover1.html):
In the past few years, Korea has done a lot of things right. The government put the building blocks in place, laying high-speed lines and encouraging foreign investment in information technology industries. It slashed red tape for Internet start-ups and deregulated the telecom industry with impressive foresight. The result: Internet access rates in Korea were dirt cheap just as the Net started to take off.
The wiring of rural India is critical for the creation of the true mass market Internet. This is now starting to happen in pockets. India Today recently wrote (http://www.india-today.com/itoday/20001211/offtrack.shtml) about the Information Village Research Project, being implemented in and around Pondicherry by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation.
A few months ago, the New York Times (May 28, 2000) carried an excellent article on “Connecting Rural India To the World” by Celia Dugger, stating “a well-placed computer, like a communal well or an irrigation pump, may become another tool for development. At a time of growing unease about the global gap between technology knows and know-nots, India is fast becoming a laboratory for small experiments like the one at the temple that aim to link isolated rural pockets to the borderless world of knowledge. Local governments and nonprofit groups are testing new approaches to provide villages where barely anyone can afford a telephone with computer centers that are accessible to all.”