Author's Picture Issue: India 2008
Article no.: 11
Topic: Bridging the divide from above
Author: Bahram Pourmand
Title: Executive Vice President and General Manager
Organisation: International Division, Hughes Network Systems, LLC
PDF size: 229KB

About author

Bahram Pourmand is the Executive Vice President and General Manager for Hughes Network Systems’ International Division, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hughes Communications. Mr Pourmand, responsible for Hughes’ international operations, is also a member of the Hughes Communications, Inc. management team and a board member of Hughes Escorts Communications Ltd (HECL), Shanghai Hughes, Hughes Network Systems Europe and its various subsidiaries. Prior to joining Hughes, Mr Pourmand was a director with Rockwell International, responsible for the design and development of analogue and digital multiplexers and radios, and digital switches. He received a patent for his Digital Implementation of Parity Monitor and Alarm. Mr Pourmand has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Texas Tech University and a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Methodist University.

Article abstract

India is famous for the successful use of information and communication technology (ICT) that has made it a world leader in ITES/BPO (IT enabled services/business process outsourcing). India’s focus on higher education and ICTs has pushed the country’s amazing growth in recent years. Now, by using satellites to reach the rural areas where much of its population resides, India hopes to bridge the digital divide and bring advanced services, education and economic growth to the rest of the country.

Full Article

Generating ‘more inclusive growth’ is an important part of India’s economic growth objectives. In fact, the country’s eleventh Five-Year Plan lists the current deficits in education, health, and sanitation as problems to overcome in order to achieve India’s objectives. The Five-Year Plan also addresses the role of broadband access, which can act as a catalyst for rapid economic growth and social transformation, especially in rural areas. ‘Bridging the digital divide’ plays an important role in achieving these objectives. The digital divide is an acutely important issue when speaking of developing a widely inclusive information society in both developing and developed nations. Today, enormous differences in access to broadband exist among and within countries. Bridging India’s digital divide makes sound economic sense; it is also an important civic service that will improve the quality of life of its citizens. Traditional terrestrial/landline technologies are not widely available throughout India. Satellite access is one way to provide broadband connectivity in regions that lack adequate terrestrial access. Satellite access is not constrained by geography and can reach the most remote areas. Numerous initiatives around the globe provide connectivity and communications to millions of people, businesses and government agencies in areas that are not reached by terrestrial broadband. These initiatives are taking place, not only in under-developed countries in Africa and Asia, but also in developing countries like India, Brazil, Russia, and China. In fact, even in the USA, satellite technology is used mostly to bring connectivity to consumers, SMEs, enterprises and government agencies. There are approximately 15 million households in the US, without access to landline broadband technologies such as cable or DSL, where satellite technology fills the gap. It is not economical for carriers to invest in terrestrial technologies in rural areas and areas where subscriber densities are low; hence, satellite technology will continue to play a major role in developed and developing economies for years to come. Satellite ensures seamless broadband connectivity for governments and businesses around the world and it helps bridge the digital divide. Some key applications are: • Distance education or e-Learning; • Telemedicine; • Agri-commerce; • e-governance; • Transaction and Internet services; • Information distribution; and • Entertainment. Distance learning brings lessons from renowned institutions and professors even to remote regions that have no other access than satellite. Distance learning programmes also provide support to the teaching staff at the schools where they are installed. Telemedicine uses broadband satellite to transfer images, X-rays, MRIs, etc. to experienced doctors in major medical centres and hospitals, thereby facilitating diagnosis and treatment in rural areas. Agri-commerce offers price discovery and transparency to the farmer and helps automate the rural-urban food supply chain. e-governance makes a variety of government services available in remote villages. In addition to government services and routine transaction services, Internet-commerce in kiosks also offers such services as utility bill payment and travel ticketing. Broadband access to the Internet also facilitates the distribution of such information as weather reports, health hazard warnings, emergency alerts, news, and the like. Lastly, satellite brings entertainment such as digital cinema to rural areas. These applications have already been deployed by different public and private organizations in most geographic areas around the world using a variety of innovative business models. Many digital divide projects across the globe – from government mandated consumer broadband services in rural Australia, to broadband connectivity for schools in Mexico and Ethiopia and rural telephony access network in Mexico – are powered by satellite technology. In India, satellite broadband access is providing opportunities for millions of people on the other side of the digital divide. India is a vast country; about 70 per cent of its population is located in towns, cities and villages where basic communications services are not available. Using broadband over satellite connected to a couple of PCs and printers with power backup, 1,700 kiosks run by local entrepreneurs are providing access to a wide array of services. Students enrol themselves in skill-building programmes, for example, to learn English or to take a job in the growing ITES/BPO (IT enabled services/business process outsourcing) industry of India. Students at institutes use this network of kiosks to take live classes and can choose from certificate programmes in technical or management areas or vocational studies. After completion, students are equipped to find better work opportunities. Apart from education, the kiosks provide e-governance services to local citizens. A variety of government-issued certificates are now available through these local kiosks as are convenience services like railway ticketing. People can search the Internet at these kiosks for information that will help them improve their livelihoods. For example, before selling their produce, farmers benchmark the latest market quotes for agricultural commodities. Over the next two years, 25,000 such kiosks enabled by broadband over satellite will seamlessly connect over 300 million people throughout India. Another project that bridges the digital divide is the award-winning e-Choupal project by an Indian company, ITC Limited. E-choupals are information centres set up across nine states in India seamlessly connecting farmers to large firms and global markets. Today, around 3.5 million farmers across 36,000 villages are benefiting from these centres that integrate farmers into the global economy. Broadband satellite technology connects the e-choupals and offer real-time services such as Internet access, commodity prices, training, a direct marketing channel for farm produce, weather updates and news. Telemedicine is an important satellite broadband-based initiative; it gives people in rural and remote areas access to the kind of medical expertise that is otherwise available only in urban areas. Because of the size and diversity of the country, India faces a challenge in providing healthcare to people who live in thousands of its rural towns and villages. The government is working to solve this problem by using satellite broadband to deliver telemedicine. Satellite systems connect doctors and medical experts at specialised hospitals in urban areas so their highly qualified medical practitioners can help professionals in rural and district hospitals diagnose and treat serious medical conditions or even provide guidance during minor surgeries. Community Internet Centres set up in association with the National Informatics Centre (NIC) are distributed throughout states in the northeast and Sikkim. Since the centres are in remote areas, satellite technology is used as the most viable, cost-effective way to provide Internet access, e-Learning, employment notices, e-governance, and news. Under the National e-governance Program (NeGP), the government has commissioned different private enterprises in public-private partnerships (PPPs) to set up 100 thousand Common Service Centres (CSCs) in every state in the country. These centres will provide citizens with such services as e-governance, education, ticketing, utility payment, and access to information. The government has commissioned PPPs with Comat Technologies, Hughes, SREI, 3i Infotech, and NICT and others to set up close to 25 thousand centres across the country during the next two years. These centres will enable e-governance services that let people in remote areas apply online for a birth certificate or a driver’s license and avail themselves of services like online ticketing to book rail and airline tickets from any remote village of the country. Satellite also brings an innovative solution for the cinema industry called Digital Cinema. Digital Cinema enables theatres in smaller towns to receive movies over satellite on the day of release, thereby removing the divide that exists in getting quality entertainment into semi-urban and rural India. The movies are of the highest digital quality and encoded to reduce piracy. Satellite broadband has the power to seamlessly connect any part of the world for any type of application – it is broadband anywhere and everywhere – and transform people’s lives no matter where they live or work.