Digital inclusion for rural empowerment

Digital inclusion for rural empowerment

New Delhi: India needs to develop its own model of how to utilize information and communication technology (ICT) to benefit the masses, said Sam Pitroda, adviser to the Prime Minister on public information infrastructure and innovations.

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“We need to create an Indian model of information system suited to our needs," Pitroda said at the 7th Manthan Award South Asia 2010, hosted in New Delhi on Saturday.

Also Read Catch the Manthan winners in action

Organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF); One97, a provider of mobile value-added services; Internet Society; and the Indian government’s department of information technology (DIT), the theme of the awards this year was “empowering rural masses through wireless, 3G and broadband". Mint is a strategic partner of The Manthan Awards.

The awards seek to promote innovative ICT products from across South Asia.

Organizers received 456 entries for the competition, of which 434 were accepted. These included 313 from India, 57 from Sri Lanka, 51 from Bangladesh, 31 from Pakistan, two from Nepal and one each from Afghanistan and the Maldives.

A 20-member jury selected 41 winners out of 77 finalists in 15 categories: e-agriculture and livelihood, e-business and enterprise, e-culture and heritage, e-education, e-entertainment, e-environment, e-governance, e-health, e-learning, e-localization, e-news and media, e-inclusion, e-travel and tourism, community broadcasting and most innovative nominations.

“Broadband is electricity for the 21st century. You give bandwidth to grassroots innovators and they are ready to implement a million ideas," said Osama Manzar, founder of DEF and curator of the award.

“The maximum participation we saw was from the inclusion category and also the toughest to decide for the obvious reasons. Categories like environment, entertainment, culture and heritage and science are the least popular ones, which is a concern," he said.

The participants in the programme included government officials, students, community and industry leaders, and entrepreneurs. They addressed concerns such as content, connectivity, infrastructure and policy and regulation with regard to rural technology.

Ramamurthy Sivakumar, managing director, sales and marketing for Intel (South Asia), said digital information and consumption, especially for mobile data, is growing twice as fast in tier-3 and tier-4 cities compared to tier-2 cities. This will be boosted further by the availability of cheap mobile phones that can be used to communicate via video. “India is a content-rich nation. In five years, an average Indian will have three devices in their hands."

But Rajneesh D. Singh of the Internet Society disagreed. There are more content consumers than content creators, and this is the biggest challenge for India, he said.

Jayalakshmi Chittoor, a consultant on ICT for development, said a platform was needed to allow people working on similar technologies to be able to coordinate with each other.

Poor connectivity is another challenge in the dissemination of content. “The Internet is the greatest instrument of providing equal opportunity as enshrined in India’s constitution. But the constraint is Internet access and broadband in remote areas," said Mohammed Haleem Khan from the ministry of rural development.

“The government should provide access to existing infrastructure on a sharing basis," said Michael Ginguld, chief executive of AirJaldi, a wireless network provider. “This will help in fixing the gaps in digital infrastructure."

Power shortages hamper steady connectivity. “Technologies should be developed which complete the whole process of transaction, even if the power goes off. Work your way around your weaknesses," said Ashish Sanyal, secretary, DIT.

Mahabir Pun of Nepal Wireless, a 2007 Magsaysay awardwinner, said the right policies were crucial. “Funds are not a problem for people like us, we can somehow manage," Pun said. “But clarity on policy and regulations needs to be achieved."

The experts also suggested that taxes should be reduced on Internet access and delivery terminals, and there should be collaboration between government and industry for providing demand-driven training, content creation and delivery platforms.