Diminishing the digitaldivide in India
T.H. Chowdary is Information Technology Advisor to the Government of Andhra Pradesh and Director of the Center for TelecomManagement and Studies, Hyderabad, India. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information technology, Communications technology,Developing countries, India
India responded to the Maitland Report'srecommendations to solve the ``missing link'' by deciding to establish community telephones in all of India's 650,000 villages, a task that is largely complete. The author argues that,similarly, the benefits of access to the Internet are so great that the government should employ a similar strategy. This should include improving affordability through a competitive environment, encouraging the use of radio technology and upgrading village public telephones to Public Tele InformationCenters (PTICs). Obstacles such as illiteracy and lack of computer skills must also be tackled if India is to diminish the digital divide.
The digital divide is a phrase which is increasingly beingused by sociologists and politicians, especially the populistvariety. The Internet has immense potential to benefit anyperson provided they are educated and have affordableaccess to it. Those who are educated, ideally with proficiencyin English, with a telephone connection ± better still, abroadband data connection ± and a PC or third generationmobile telephone with a built in digital camera ± these are thehaves of digitized information and knowledge across theworld. Since knowledge is power they can become wealthy,healthy, powerful and dominant, not only within the confinesof a state but worldwide because of the globalization ofeconomies and trade under the regime of the World TradeOrganization (WTO). For them the whole world is the market,the whole world is the resource, the whole world is the areafor exerting influence and ingestion of knowledge.But there are those who are not literate, not educated, notskilled enough to use any device or do not have the moneyto acquire any of these capabilities. These are the have-notsof digitized knowledge. The former will prosper rapidly andbecome richer and richer. The latter may improve only by the(questionable) trickle-down effect. This digital divide isdeeply destabilising and distressing, and the policy makersas well as engineers and knowledge producers are exercisedabout how to bridge this divide.Of course there are many types of divides, not all of whichare of equal concern and consequence: the divide betweenthe educated and uneducated; the urban and the rural; thewealthy and the poor; those who have electricity and thosewho do not; those who have access to and can afford healthcare and those who do not have either of these; those whohave radio and TV and those who do not; those who have atelephone and those who do not. Each one of these divideshas a penalty and deprivation for the have-nots. In fact the``leftists'' go on asking whether any information technology orthe PCs are worth the investment of the nation when thereare so many people deprived of or lacking education,drinking water, housing, health care, bank loans, TV sets,etc. It is not for engineers alone to answer these questionsand spend their time removing all these divides, before oralong with the digital divide. However, as citizens we canagree that access to the digital network, to the Internet,enables access to information and knowledge about everything from a job opportunity to a market for handicrafts,admission to different schools, as well as for obtainingservices from government.
Public policies to diminish the digital divide
Years ago, first the engineers and then the policy makerswere concerned about the ``missing link'', a term that wasused like the ``digital divide'' is now to make the distinctionbetween those who have a telephone and those who did not.The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) appointed
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