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Workshop 7: Low Cost Sustainability Access

Report by Syed Nazir Razik>

(Download pdf version)

Format and Background :
The last three days of IGF at Hyderabad we have been talking about innumerable topics related to internet and its various topics , privileges, advances so on. But for the first time there was this interesting session presented by DEF (Digital Empowerment Foundation) India on a topic to ensure that we bring the neglected masses of the underprivileged rural poor who don’t have access to internet. The objective of the workshop was to discuss on the initiative we need to undertake to bring low cost , sustainable access to the rural poor so that we can empower the next billion into the ubiquitous information superhighway , the internet.

The last 5 year has seen many ambitious projects, plans initiatives like OLPC, 100$ Laptop, rural kiosks, e-choupal, Project Disha and so on, trying to create a better value proposition which can benefit the rural poor. All these initiatives created with a prime object for the underprivileged to take advantage of the benefits of internet. But each of these attempts seem to have some short coming or other and don’t seem to hit the nail on the target clearly. Thus the search is still on for a utopian solution to the a low cost sustainable access. We are looking for a solution at the Base of the Pyramid where the market opportunity is amazingly vast. But at the same time the challenge and supporting infrastructure is pretty barebone and hostile. The users at this segment are clearly a VFM ( Value for Money) market ie...value conscious .

The session was presided by: Mr Chandrasekhar, Special Secy, Dept of IT, Govt of India and moderated by Osama Manzar, Founder , Digital Empowerment Foundation of India and Chairman of the Manthan Award for Best Digital Content for Development.

The major Pain Points with conditions in developing countries like India is:
1. There is a severe shortage of power in rural India. And most of the time there is lack of adequate voltage
2. Lack of computers and basic cost of computers is at higher threshold making it less affordable for rural users
3. Lack of connectivity in the last mile, internet access in rural areas
4. Lack of knowledge / awareness among the rural poor on the benefits of internet
5. Uncertainty of technology adoption by end users in rural India


Given this established premise of thought it was subdivided into 4 Thematic groups
A. Access, Connectivity & Devices
B. Content and Services
C. Commerce and Business
D. Policy and Regulatory Focus

Each of the thematic groups was allowed to brainstorm for 35 minutes on the issue with donning the thinking hat and to evolve at points of influence and its recommendations. The evolved observations and recommendations were summarized into clear set of points that was bulleted and put forth to the entire audience. All Recommendations were consolidated as a report to be sent to the IGF Secretariat and the Ministry of IT, Government of India

Recommendations on Access, Connectivity and Devices
1. We should focus toward providing low cost devices to rural poor with cheaper access cost. What we should focus towards will be something like mobile device that can be multifunctional in communication as well as for internet access at the same time can be charge and used for longer period of time thus derive better utility value to the users. Unless our solutions provide a dramatic level of Price - Performance it will not be a value buy to the user. And we indentified the need for a hybrid solution that is able to integrate and address all the pain points of the system.
2. We should look towards increasing the investment Capacity of end users or shared access should be made available
3. Increase human resource capability in using the devices and connectivity. Rural Empowerment on using of these devices and internet need to be focused
4. Technology seems to be having smaller phase out periods. We are currently using Core 2 machines and we have nearly 7 upgrades in PC based technology in as much as 4 years
5. We need to create awareness on visible Improvement in the quality of life of end users due to connectivity

Recommendations on Content and Services
Standardize content to meet regional languages like standardization of keyboards of all vendors
2. All citizen services to be made available in the mobile platform too
3. Suggestion to insist on Uniformity in formats across different states in the same areas
4. Translated content to be made available in regional languages too
5. Prioritise and support use of Open source Software
6. Services and content has to be made available and accessible to physically challenged (disabled) people too

Recommendations on Commerce and Business
1. Need for a uniform policy for E-Commerce transactions and sites
2. Uniform security standards for sites that adopt ecommerce transactions
3. Low cost / Incentivized access to Ecommerce sites
4. Government support for low cost Ecommerce models
5. Creation of Synchronous Ecommerce models that facilitate following market interactions :- Rural >>Rural ; Urban >> Rural; Rural >> Urban; and Urban >> Urban transaction models

Recommendations on Policy and Regulatory Focus
1. Proposal to create a Corpus fund like USOF (Universal Services Obligation Fund);
2. Incentivizing the service providers from the Corpus Fund (USOF) created to providers who extend services from urban to rural areas;
3. Ability to share and distribute unutilized capacities and share infrastructure;
4. Right of the way policy;
5. Demand side policy facilitating long term sustainability;
6. Integrated or unified license for services for multiple services;
7. Spectrum regulation should reflect on public good.

The session ended with deeper appreciation to the group dynamics that was clearly visible as outcome of such brainstorming session. All thanks to Osama Manzar for gathering such an elite participant list who also doubled as panelist to contribute in evolving the thought process. The entire gathering was more than 60 people strong and here is a snap shot of some of the participants who doubled as panelists

Chairperson: Mr R Chandrashekhar, Special Secretary, DIT, Government of India
Osama Manzar, Founder Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation
Digital Empowerment Foundation
Internet & Mobile Association of India, ISOC & Intel
Countries Represented: India, Bangaldesh, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Fiji, United States, Canada, and so on

Some of the Panelists:
Deepak Maheshwari, Director - Corporate Affairs, Microsoft India
Rajendra Prasad, VP, Nepal Wireless
Syed Nazir Razik, Co Founder, The Knowledge Foundation.
Michael, Air Jaldi
Priyanthi, Diplo
Subho Ray, President, IAMAI
Tahmina Rahman, AAIT, Bangladesh
Suresh Chanda, Secretary – IT, Andhra Pradesh
Ashish Sanyal, Director, DIT
Dr Rajiv Sharma, Director General, Center for Good Governance
Sunil Abraham, Director, Internet Society
Joseph Thomas, Lead Partner, Byrraju Foundation
Sunil Kr Barnwal, CEO- JAP IT, Jharkhand Government
Meera Shenoy, Director, EGMM, Andhra Pradesh Government
Rajnesh, Anju, from ISOC
Rajen Varada & Gitanjali Sah from UN Solution Exchange
Ravi Gupta, Director, CSDMS
Fernando, Brazil


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