Enabling ICT for Rural India

While looking at the proceedings of FIRe (Future in Review), found the web-page for Rafiq Dossani who is doing ground-breaking research on IT as it relates to South Asia, and India in particular. Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary of the project Enabling ICT for Rural India:

Some findings from the review were expected, such as poor infrastructure, high deployment and maintenance costs and the lack of content for eGovernance. Some less expected findings are that eGovernance services are overwhelmingly the most needed; that content is largely irrelevant to needs (itself indicative of wider problems of user and operator capabilities); but that user interest rises significantly when services can be delivered regularly and efficiently; that NGOs play a key role in understanding user needs and increasing awareness; and, finally, that rural capacity is not being enhanced through ICT.

Some problems exist because the strengths of the different stakeholders are not being used optimally. Thus, NGOs, which are strongest in understanding user needs and in increasing awareness, have diverted considerable resources to accessing bandwidth and paying for kiosk infrastructure. Organizations that are village-focused have missed the opportunity of maximizing coverage through Internet-based provision. All providers must deal with infrastructure problems outside their control, such as power problems. Partnerships in content provision are rare though greatly needed.

Our proposal for a new ICT model is based on separating the infrastructure from content provision and recommending that deployment of the infrastructure upto the block level be provided by technology specialists using universal service obligation (USO) funds. We also recommend the establishment of a data center at the state level in order to use content more efficiently. These approaches recognize the public-good character of the technology infrastructure. The Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Institutions should create a framework of rules to enable state management of this process.

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