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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Rural Connectivity in India

In the mailbox Marcelo sends me a piece about IT and rural India. This is fascinating as a number of my India Economy Watch colleagues are involved in just such projects.The Turow argument referred to relates to this IEW post:

I'm not 100% sure about Lest Thurow's outlook, but it seems like India is (to be fair, has been) addressing at least some of the issues he raised. Having been a fan of Neal Stephenson, William Gibson and the rest of the "cyberpunk" writers for most of my life, I can't but feel a thrill at the concept of a country trying to "upgrade" its peasants to users of digital technology literally bypassing literacy. I don't know if it will or can work, but the concept is fascinating.

India plans $2.7 billion IT investment

Government embarks on four-year effort to bridge digital divide

By John Ribeiro, IDG News Service November 03, 2003

BANGALORE, INDIA - The Indian government plans to spend $2.7 billion over the next four years to bridge the country's digital divide, according to a government official. "You do not want to get into a situation where information and
communications technology, and its progress create social chasms and economic chasms between the haves and have-nots," said Rajeeva Ratna Shah, secretary for industrial policy and promotion in the federal government, at a conference Sunday in Bangalore, India.

As part of its investment in technology and infrastructure, the government plans to introduce a voice-based information technology device that and can be used by Indian villagers regardless of the language they speak.
"(The device) should be able to take commands orally," Shah said. "There must be total interactivity and literacy should not act as a barrier. Language should also not be a barrier. We are moving towards that.'' Shah did not however disclose the technical specifications of the device. This is not the first time engineers in India have attempted to design
a low-cost computer device for rural use. However, the Simputer, a Linux-based handheld mobile computer, with a target price tag of about $200, ailed to take off because of insufficient interest in its target market. A number of nongovernment organizations, multilateral aid agencies, educational institutions and state governments have also launched projects for bridging the digital divide in India, where more than 70 percent of the population live in rural
areas where literacy levels are low and poverty is grinding.

The corporate sector also is discovering that bridging the digital divide could translate into new market opportunities. For instance, HP Labs India, which was set up in Bangalore by Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), is developing products appropriate for India's rural markets. HP is based in Palo Alto, California. Intel Corp., based in Santa Clara, California, has invested in research at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai to explore the viability of wireless Internet connectivity in rural areas. But the investment Shah outlined Sunday is the first time the federal government has put its weight and considerable funds behind such an initiative. A pilot project on broadband connectivity for rural areas is already under way in the state of Uttar Pradesh, according to Shah. In another trial project near Delhi, postal employees are downloading e-mail on wireless handheld devices and delivering them to villagers, who then use the devices to reply to the e-mail, Shah said. The government also plans to introduce a government-to-business
portal, which will allow foreign investors to interact directly with the government, and "enable us to cut corruption," Shah said.
Source: Info World

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