|The Internet – building rural India
|Pacific Internet, India
Raj Metrani is the Managing Director of Pacific Internet, India, responsible for its strategic expansion in the Indian sub-continent. Mr Metrani has more than 16 years of sales, business development, channel management, technical support services, and business operations experience in the IT sector. Before joining PacNet, Mr Metrani was the Director of Operations at Cable & Wireless, responsible for its business support services, having served earlier as the company’s Country Sales Manager. Mr Metrani worked previously for Pertech Computers Ltd, Motorola ISG and Ascom. Mr Metrani has a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Electronics & Telecommunication, and a Master’s in Business Administration from the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore.
The Internet has just begun to change the way the world’s people live. It will bring more change in the coming years to regions such as rural India than they have seen in centuries. India’s Universal Service Obligation Fund, wireless broadband and the rapidly dropping cost of infrastructure and equipment will soon give rural inhabitants access to the Internet and, through it, the world’s knowledge and the sort of services many of its inhabitants have taken for granted for years.
Search, share, talk, see, view, listen, transmit, communicate, collaborate, socialize, sell, buy, transact, broker, compare, date, conference, advertise, solicit, teach, learn, inform, broadcast, televise, auction, bid, copy, beg, borrow, steal, preach, evangelize, express views – the list goes on. In the era before the Internet, should you have needed to undertake any of these activities you would have spent a great deal of physical effort. You would have needed a different tool for each of the above activities. The Internet has changed everything. Today, all that you need is a PC and an Internet connection to invoke the above actions. The lives of millions of people and the businesses of thousands of companies have changed forever thanks to the Internet. Dell, ebay, Vonage, Apple iTunes, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Expedia, Skype, E-Trade, NASDAQ, Myspace, Cisco, Ryan Air… use the Internet to change the way business is done. They used the disruptive capabilities of the Net to gain an upper hand in business. The Net has no borders, age is neither a criteria nor a bar for using it and censorship is futile. Efficiency, simplicity and speed rule, there are no middle men on the Internet. The Net destroys assumptions, size is no advantage and transparency is paramount. It has indeed empowered the mind with ideas and given wings to them. Many of the above companies would not have been what they are or would not have existed, but for the Net. They were not only pioneers but were also explorers who believed that there was a world that existed beyond the obvious. These companies were willing to give wings to their ideas and beliefs. They changed the rules of using the Internet. The Net offers a level ground for all players, but we have only discovered the very beginnings of its potential. The Internet allows you to share views, collaborate, pick minds, discuss, debate and make a point. It allows you to test, experiment and to get volunteers… all on a scale previously unimaginable. The Internet has brought in a significant change in business and economics. It has also made a great impact on the private lives of all those in our society. Looking at the Indian context, the major beneficiary of the socio-economic changes, as in other parts of the world, has been the large urban population. India is a study in paradox. A large section of India’s population lives in the rural areas. We have a great disparity between the urban and the rural universes and there is a great divide between the haves and the have nots everywhere in the country. One section of the population has access to the best of benefits. The other sector, with its great lack of even the most basic needs – such as water, health care, sanitation, education and information is regularly exploited. This sector makes up some 65 per cent of India’s population; it is comprised, predominately, of India’s rural population. If India is to become the great economic superpower it intends to be, it cannot succeed without reducing the rural and the urban gap. It cannot be a super power just by having more IT investment, more FDI, foreign direct investment, or more investment in manufacturing; this will only increase the gap if the rural population does not benefit from it. Can the Internet help bridge the gap? Can it accomplish what years of political effort has not been able to bring about? As mentioned at the beginning, the Internet has brought significant economic changes. It has also helped bring about social change. It has helped build opinions. It has helped people express their views and be heard. Decades of exploitation have been the bane of rural India. The inhabitants of these regions have succumbed to this exploitation because of lack of information and the lack of opportunities to express themselves or even be heard in an unbiased manner by the policy-makers, and lack of means to exchange views with their brethren throughout the country. They lack an interactive window to the world. Radio and TV offer only one-way communication. It is not tailored to help them. The Internet can bring very deep and significant social changes to rural India. It is not a silver bullet but, it opens the window to the world. It is important to bring this enormous segment of our population into the mainstream. Even minimal, fractional, changes brought about by the Internet will have an immense impact not only on the lives of people, but also upon the Indian economy. These minute changes, multiplied by the number of users on the Internet, create a huge cumulative impact. The logistics, the costs, affordability, connectivity, the availability of electricity to power PCs, the communications infrastructure, language and other issues are relatively unimportant in the long run given the massive benefits it can bring to India’s large rural population currently deprived of so many of the basic necessities. There are many ways the Internet can bring in significant changes, including: Access to information – Lack of information leads to exploitation. Without knowledge and without the communication capabilities required to access, analyze and share the information required to create knowledge, they are at the mercy of those who have access to information. With unbridled access to knowledge, citizens can have an edge over their exploiters. Imagine the control people would have over their lives if they had the right information on business, trade, policies, laws of the land, daily agriculture prices, weather, unbiased views and news, health, finance, environment management, water management, agriculture practices in other regions, trade potential for craftsmen and artisans, early warning system for drought and floods, best practices and so forth. Information dissemination – Information centres can gather information from the Internet and disseminate it via local radio stations, newspapers and other local information-sharing networks and tools. For example, daily market prices and agricultural news can be posted at cooperatives, local stores, transportation hubs, agricultural supply outlets and social gathering points. Simple newsletters can be developed using Internet information and distributed to members of farmer organizations. When integrated with other media tools, the Internet can be a powerful information resource and research tool. Education – Many school children in India do not have access to proper text books, nor do they have access to libraries. Quite often, teachers have had little training, have little knowledge of certain subjects, and have little or no opportunity to upgrade their knowledge. The cost of printed texts and other academic materials is usually so high that both students and teachers have great difficulty acquiring them. Via the Internet, any information published online can be accessed almost instantly and either free or at a tiny fraction of the cost of obtaining printed materials. Information on the Internet is easy to access and archival lists of resources can be reviewed easily and assessed in remote locations. Interactive, rich multimedia content, in local languages and adapted to local needs can open new vistas to the children. Access to knowledge and education empowers the children to act as influencers. They are the catalysts for future social change. Interactive communication – For any human being, to be heard and seen creates a sense of existence and social relevance. The Internet allows for low cost audio, video or text communication with anyone across the globe. Distance or physical isolation is not a barrier. They can express views, be heard, get opinions, seek or give advice. The Internet will enable them to sensitize urban policy-makers to the realities and needs of rural populations. It will help them create a presence and let the world know that they exist and they are a part and parcel of the socio-economic system. The Internet can help improve interaction between non-governmental organizations, government services, private sector entities and educational institutions that support rural development. By sharing information about their activities in the fields of agriculture, rural development, forestry, fisheries, health, nutrition, education and the like, these agencies can better serve rural people. India’s policy-makers in should: • develop and implement an Internet strategy for rural development; • create Internet awareness; • establish pilot projects; • adapt existing Internet information services to users in rural areas; • put rural telecom infrastructure development on a fast track; and, • support creative Internet applications and information services for rural development. The steam engine gave birth to the industrial revolution. Roads made America what it is today. The Internet can change the fortunes of rural India and the Indian economy.