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Millennium Post

Time for ‘right to Internet’

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. 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.

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 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, under the initiative called ‘The Certification Program for Broadband Buildings’.

Taking it further, the government made it compulsory for educational institutions (under the Educational Broadcasting System) to give assignments and results on the internet. 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. The same trend is being replicated in small nations in Africa and Latin America.

By increasing cyber knowledge and the skills associated with it, India actually can set an example to the developing world on how to progress amidst recessionary constraints. The integration of the rural economy with technology can bring forth an economic miracle at a level experienced in Japan and China. To jumpstart the economy, the kind of federal investment required in building sufficient infrastructure is unaffordable to our government. An alternative route is to bypass the impediments lying with the traditional form of the economy.

Undoubtedly, to build cyber infrastructure across the country would cost the exchequer a sizeable amount. But the cost is negligible compared to the investment required in building the tangible infrastructure of a traditional economy. Moreover, if we are successful in increasing broadband penetration, the improvement of skill sets for the beneficiaries will be a long term sustainable empowerment of the masses in terms of their economic, financial and social standing.

Today, across the globe, a broadband connection is more of a necessity than a luxury. Comprehending the same, Finland in 2010 passed a law making broadband a legal right for their citizens allowing every citizen to have a one-megabit broadband connection to start with, which would gradually be increased to 1 gigabit connections.

True, our government has to build this network infrastructure in a country as vast as ours, but the prospects of returns for the investment are so alluring that the government should give it a serious thought and consideration. In fact, this move, if implemented properly, will give India a chance to eclipse even China in terms of development and progress. If China has gone the traditional way of being a manufacturing hub, India can take a shorter and relatively inexpensive route to a holistically similar effect.

It can be argued that over 30 per cent of our population is illiterate and can’t be integrated into this system. However, a compartmental policy of training the literate population in using internet and providing an alternative means of sustenance for the illiterate sections can solve the issue in the short run. In any case, the spread of internet is bound to produce a cascading effect on other industries, as well as on education, healthcare, financial organisations and agriculture. Therefore, the left-outs of the cyber movement will find it easier to reap benefits offered by the knowledge economy even if they are outside of it.

And then, as a long term solution, the marginalised lot can be slowly and prudently integrated to benefit from the broadband penetration process with the prospect of being both beneficiaries of the opportunities as well as benefactors for others. If Right to Education seems fundamentally appropriate, then the Right to Internet has an equal claim and should be formally put in place now in India.

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM think tank
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