Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Use the Internet to transform India

That the Internet’s reach in India has been gradually moving towards smaller, Tier 2 and 3 towns has been known to observers for some time, but the figures thrown up by a new survey on Internet usage are still startling. India has now crossed the 112 million mark and is third only to China and the US; by the end of this year, a full 10 per cent of our population will be Net users. What should make everyone sit up and take notice is the finding that nearly 37 per cent of them are in small towns. This has implications for communications, e-commerce, society and governance.
What is interesting, even exciting, is that users, particularly younger ones, are not merely logging on to check emails or use social media, though these are important. Education is an important aspect of the Internet experience, whether for research or e-learning, and for a vast country like India this is obviously a heartening discovery. Governments can utilise the power and reach of the Internet to bring high quality education at the doorstep of rural and distant communities, thus cutting infrastructure costs. Imagine a village school where students learn from the best teachers in every subject sitting far away. It could revolutionise education in India. The experience so far in the rest of the world has been that new ideas on leveraging the Internet’s possibilities have sprung up from young entrepreneurs rather than established firms. That pattern is emerging in India too.
The government has a major role to play if the Internet is to continue growing. First, it has to invest in broadband. That will require huge allocations, and the private sector has to play a role. All mobile connections should be converted into high-speed data networks, thus bringing the Internet into people’s hands.
Most important is how the government plans to use the Internet. Making governance simpler and friendlier has been an avowed aim of several administrations, but there has been a gap between promise and performance.
Digitising government records and making them accessible to users across the country will definitely make things simpler. A citizen should be able to bypass myriad layers and hierarchies that come in his way when dealing with the government; the Internet can definitely help make that easier. The challenges thrown up by the spread of the Internet will be formidable, but the opportunities are going to be phenomenal. It is for us to exploit them.

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