The Government can become a major positive factor for the Indian Internet by doing two things: one, staying away from regulating or policing it, and second, by ensuring that every government department should in GE-style report back with a plan within 60 days to see how the Internet can make people’s lives better.
On the first count, so far, the government has done a reasonable job, though the historical telecom mess has ensured a poor infrastructure in terms of bandwidth – both domestically and internationally. In today’s world, telecom and the Internet need to completely freed up, including allowing voice on the Internet. The government should do what is in the best interest of the consumers, and then stay out.
eGovernance in India is still far away. This is where change needs to be wrought. One of the biggest daily pains is where the citizens and corporates have to interact with the government. This is where the government has the potential, more than any other application, to dramatically increase usage of the Internet at the mass level across India. The various government departments can actually ensure that the Internet becomes a utility in people’s lives.
Indian technology companies complain of a lack of domestic market. If the government can ensure that interacting with it can be done electronically, this will lead to not only the creation of a large domestic market with a waterfall effect to small and medium enterprises, but also spur the creation of local and relevant technology solutions (eg. voice-recognition and text-to-speech solutions, and browsers in local Indian languages). This innovation is then what we can sell to the other 3 billion people like us around the world.
India needs bureaucrats and ministers willing to put aside ego and the desire to set aside vote banks to see how technology can raise standards of living and remove pains from the lives of people. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh have shown that if there is a will at the top, a lot can be accomplished and elections can be won. India needs speed to ensure that 2001 can truly become the Year of the Internet for the masses in India.