Is Internet "December 21, 2012" in India?
Date: Tuesday , December 08, 2009
As Indians, we are all very proud of the success story of telecom in India, but ‘would the Internet, and especially the broadband experience, be similar to this’ is a question worth pondering about! Though it is acknowledged by all that countries like India, having a large population, need to have the virtual world infrastructure to empower their citizens, Internet penetration is still low in our country. Only about 7.2 million people in the country are using broadband and the figures for Internet users vary from 60 to 70 millions; hardly a heartening figure in a nation with a billion plus population.
Recently, on the invite of Raja, Union Minister of Telecom, a debate was initiated by top ranking DOT officials and the senior industry professionals. The majority of the attendees at this high level platform duly acknowledged the power of Internet telephony as an application to popularize Internet. A common man, for example, may not have the need to visit a website or send an email but he may have the need to make a telephone call. If it can facilitate the people of India make cheaper phone calls, the Internet will emerge as the common man’s tool. And only then we can think of mass penetration of Internet in India. There is no denying the fact that the success of the Internet in India hinges on Internet telephony, and it will help the spread of Internet and broadband penetration to the remote corners of the country. Once people start making calls through Internet, it will also lead to awareness of internet. Gradually they will learn the other uses of the Internet. Internet telephony must be the first step and a welfare state can never ignore the wellbeing of the majority of the people.
Apart from Internet penetration, the minister also expressed his concern for aam aadmi (common man), especially the ones living in rural India, who constitute 75 percent of the country’s population and hoped to extend services like education and tele-medicine also to them. While the challenges of PC penetration and language are a hurdle, the solution of ‘shared’ PC concept i.e. through the cybercafés, holds some hope, though it requires the protection and patronage of the government.
The difficulties in access to PC in India has made the pracitce of sharing a PC from the cybercafés more predominant, with the cybercafé owners playing the role of a facilitator or interpreter for the community living around it, and providing people with the desired information and e-services which otherwise would not have been possible. Though about 36 percent of the country’s population accesses the Internet from cybercafés, their immense reach is yet to be exploited to the hilt. It can hardly be doubted that cybercafés have the power of unleashing a revolution that would totally transform the lives of the people, especially the strata of the society that are not computer literate, find PC costly, and consider broadband at home a luxury. In the words of Subho Ray, President, IAMAI, “For the last 15 years public access points, better known as cybercafés, have been the most important point for accessing Internet in India.” According to him the benefits of Internet to the masses will remain a distant dream unless these access points are allowed to flourish, even if it means providing government assistance and patronage. In a country with low disposal income and high PC and hardware cost, Internet can only be successful when it is available in a ‘sachet model’ of ‘use and pay’; a model which already exists but needs a fresh lease of life. The 1,80,000 cybercafés and 50,000 CSC’s spread across the country can play a pivotal role in promoting e-services like e-education, telemedicine, online bill payment, and e-tax payment among the common people of the country. The adoption rate would further go up if all the services are available in vernacular languages, helping the government achieve its objective of creating an empowered India.
The author is Managing Director of SVTL, and President of CCAOI