PM Profile

Business Standard looks at the first 10 weeks of Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh:

It has been 71 days since Manmohan Singh made the unexpected ascent to the countrys top job. During that time he has emerged as the most low-profile prime minister the country has ever had.

He has made one trip to Andhra Pradesh, a key Congress bastion, and another to Assam from where he has been elected to the Rajya Sabha. This week hes made his first trip abroad to Bangkok, for a meeting on regional trade and cooperation.

His advisors talk about long hours in the office, of a man who is poring through the files that the system throws up to him. Perhaps thats why some insiders say he is less dependent on his principal secretary than any other prime minister has ever been. Hes a hands on man. Be it foreign affairs, the economy, rural development or water, he likes to take a first account from the concerned secretary, says a senior bureaucrat.

One things for sure: Manmohan Singh is as different from A B Vajpayee as chalk is from cheese. He wants the detail (a 40-page memo on a complicated subject was welcomed and devouredwhich no one since Indira Gandhi would have done); he wants the total picture before making a move; and he wants to address the most difficult issues of development, not just make the flamboyant gesture or announce a grand scheme.

Its a harder road to walk, and it does not help that he runs a minority government with multiple handicaps. A decade ago Finance Minister Manmohan Singh put his indelible stamp on modern India. The jury is still out on whether Prime Minister Singh will be able to put a similar stamp on 21st century India.

Broadband in South Korea

ZDNet writes:

The Seoul government’s clearly articulated vision for modernising the country’s infrastructure stands in stark contrast to the regulatory morass that has stunted development in US telecommunications for several decades. South Korea’s policy — the cornerstone of a national technology initiative to help revive a devastated economy — has created true broadband competition, which in turn has helped prices fall and speeds rise.

Although its economy is still struggling, South Korea has made significant progress with many forms of digital technology. Citizens can get “video on demand” online, often even with high-definition video, for less than Americans pay to rent a DVD. Low-income students use high-speed Net connections to take free tutorials for the national aptitude test, an exam that can determine college admissions and future job paths.

Online gaming is a massive cultural phenomenon, with three TV channels dedicated to the subject and good players attaining the fame of American sports stars. In addition, South Koreans spent more than US$1.6 billion shopping online in the first quarter of 2004, or about twice as much per capita as US residents .

“The vision of a broadband society is already here in Korea,” said Eric Kim, executive vice president of global marketing operations at Samsung Electronics. “We are two to three years ahead in wireless broadband, and people are using it, too.”

Cumulative revenue from online content has similarly exploded. Companies that provide online games and services like the Cyworld blogging site have penetrated all segments of society and become a national obsession. Corporate executives chronicle their daily lives through blogs.

“The usage model is critical,” said MC Kim, general manager for Intel Korea. “Online gaming is one of the killer apps.”

In many ways, the most important question answered in the country’s grand broadband experiment has been one of demand. Broadband progress has long been delayed in the United States and other countries as a result of uncertainty about how much interest consumers would have in paying for the expensive infrastructure needed for high-bandwidth services.

As a result, entire industries have been paralysed for years by a classic Catch-22, as content companies and network carriers waited for one another to make the first move before investing in broadband products. Telecommunications start-ups tried to break that stalemate in the 1990s by investing large sums to offer rival high-speed connections to customers, only to be gutted in the dot-com bust.

What South Korea showed is that, if you build it, they will definitely come.

India needs a similarly aggressive approach to broadband.