October 18, 2013

Time for "Right to Internet"!

While I am jotting down my thoughts for this week's editorial, someone thousands of kilometers away in another nation would be surfing the internet at a speed nothing less than 1 Gbit/second – the highest in the world – at a price that is affordable to 95 per cent of the population of their country.

The evolving knowledge economy is perhaps the second most important economic milestone in the world after the industrial revolution. The platform of this knowledge economy is primarily based on internet and internet based applications. This economy is the most appropriate indicator of globalization and how people belonging to different nationalities, cultures and linguistics can be brought into a common domain with mutually beneficial experiences. Millions of people in India have built their careers based on internet related services and applications. Online transactions too have increased at the speed of light. The spread of knowledge, education, healthcare, banking and agriculture through internet based services has impacted millions across the nation. However, because of lower education and internet penetration, the fruits of the internet revolution are more pronounced in urban zones than the rural ones. After the telecom revolution, the next big thing waiting for India is the broadband revolution. The prospects for this are more exciting than the telecom revolution, as this has a potential to dramatically transform the socio-economic landscape of rural India. However, market forces are an impediment for private internet service providers, especially the huge investment required to build a countrywide IP network infrastructure. With the growth trajectory of broadband penetration still in its nascent stage, private companies are skeptical about the returns on their investment, especially in the backdrop of the economic doldrums the country is experiencing. Our policy makers, however, should have the vision to understand the potential that the rural market offers from the perspective of business as well as development of people.

The penetration of broadband can bring in a paradigm shift to the entire economy by refocusing at least a chunk of the economy from the traditional brick and mortar model to a knowledge based structure. As per a World Bank study, every ten per cent increase in broadband penetration increases the GDP by around 1.3-1.4 per cent! Unfortunately, the broadband penetration of India is at 10 per cent of the total internet user base and 1 per cent of the total population. Contrast this with other countries, like Korea. Thanks to subsidized internet and proactive competition, in Korea, almost 95 per cent of people are connected through broadband, compared to 65 per cent in US, what to talk about India. Besides conventional (unconventional for the rest of the world) plans for ICT (Information and Communication Technology), the Korean government keeps a separate funding system titled ‘The Information Promotion Fund’, which aims at further increasing the internet penetration. Additionally, the government provides ratings to buildings based on the internet facilities in the building. These ratings range from one star to five stars and are displayed in the premises of the building under the initiative called ‘The Certification Program for Broadband Buildings’. Today, around 2 million apartments have the certification emblem displayed in their premises. Taking it further, the government made it compulsory for educational institutions (under the Educational Broadcasting System) to give assignments and results on the internet. All communication with students and parents are online. Today, most schools and universities in Korea broadcast their lectures, admission tests, and results on internet – thus indirectly forcing parents to opt for high-speed internet services. Such extensive plans have also reaped an extensive economic result, which is evident from the doubling of Korea’s per capita income in the last two decades, just after they launched their national broadband policy. Similarly, Singapore, which launched the National Computerisation Plan in the 1980s, and more recently the iN2015, is at the number two position when it comes to internet penetration. Through their latest iN2015 plan, the nation is developing an ultra-high speed, pervasive, intelligent and trusted infocom infrastructure, which would result in 80,000 additional jobs, 90 per cent home broadband usage and 100 per cent computer ownership. The same trend is being replicated in small nations in Africa and Latin America.

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Naina Singh said...

Superb thought. Internet helps us to exercise our basic right to freedom of opinion and expression.

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