March - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
Aritra Bhattacharya
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
All information on the internet lies on the edge, and if somehow the lesser privileged can seize its power, it can unleash its potential in the from of disruptive business models,” said Vinton Gray Cerf to an enamored audience at the media conference in Bangalore. Underlining the foci of technology to be improvement of people’s lives and the environment, Cerf, one of the founding fathers of internet and currently the vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google, emphasized on the need for the internet to make the people living ‘on the fringes of economy’ more visible to the markets.

“The Internet by itself cannot alleviate poverty, but it can play the role of an enabler,” he quipped. He cited the example of Mohammed Yunus’ micro-credit policy and linked it to the Internet world.

“The micro-transaction model can be used by websites, wherein they could provide information to the end-users free of cost, drawing their revenue from other sources.” Such free information, he continued, could constitute best prices of commodities that farmers could get for their produce. Central to powering this model, especially in a country like India, would be the ubiquitous mobile phone. Developers would however have to think hard to come up with innovative interfaces to counter the challenge of the small screen interface sacrosanct with the cell phone. Moreover, they would have to deal with bandwidth issues since that presently is a big problem facing the country.

Currently India’s Internet penetration stands at 3.2 percent, as against Asia’s 10 percent, and mobiles, along with information in local languages is the only way to reach out to the less privileged. Though some portals and search engines have of late launched regional language channels (see On their marks, page 28) there is a long way to be traveled to hit the ‘content in all 22 regional languages’ marquee.

Cerf, who also suffers from hearing impairment and relies on lip-reading for communication stressed on the fact that people with disability should not be disenfranchised from using the web. Currently, only 3 percent of the internet is accessible to people with visual impairment, and the anomaly needs to be set aside. “The internet is intended to be for all,” he noted, while holding out an appeal to websites and developers to use tools that enable creation of content for all. “Though some tools exist now, people are unaware of their existence,” he pointed out.

Furthermore, if all plays out as per his plans, by the turn of the next decade, a Kalpana Chawla onboard the nex-gen space shuttle can write back home about her experiences sitting, as it were, right in the middle of nothingness. Cerf is presently spearheading the InterPlaNet (IPN) project-short for Inter-planetary Internet, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The project, when implemented, will enable spacecrafts across the solar system to communicate with each other as well the people on the third rock from the sun. The technology is also being tested at the terrestrial level; a prototype for "Delay Tolerant Networking" (DTN), based on IPN, is now being tested in parts of Sweden where villages often go off the mobile network and internet radar owing to harsh weather conditions.
The IPN will also be quite valuable for mobile communication, which is disruptive due to location and weather.

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