The Impact of the Internet on Developing Countries

Despite the fact that India is still a primarily rural economy, the majority of the areas outside the major cities are untouched by modern technology, especially the Internet. Much of the information that members of India's agrarian society need - crop prices, new crop cultivation technique, weather reports, etc. - is more often than not ill-organized and difficult to find, even if one actually has the means to access the Net. Enter, a start-up founded by respected entrepreneur Ashok Khosla. The purpose of TARAhaat is to target the rural audience and provide a means for village communities to easily access and share information on economic, social, and health issues. (9)

Access is to be provided via village 'cyber-kiosk', implemented and maintained by local entrepreneurs. One organization already officially on board is the National Youth Cooperative, which manages 200,000 youth clubs nationwide. The system will feature exceptional ease of use, including support for Hindi (the Indian national language), and strong graphic elements and voice commands for illiterate users.

The site will allow for a great increase in connectivity and communication between the rural communities and the rest of the country. Workers will be able to research both urban and rural employment opportunities without leaving their homes. Farmers will be able to direct negotiate contracts for the sale of their produce with wholesalers, avoiding intermediaries and increasing their profits. In addition, the site will allow villagers to obtain information about commodity prices, land records, health services, and even matrimonials.

In addition, the extensive development and operational infrastructure involved will generate a great deal of employment. (4)

Utilizing the Railways

One of the major impediments to the widespread growth of the Internet throughout India is the poorly developed telecom infrastructure. While there are plans to upgrade the setup with a full-blown nationwide fiber-optic network, there is at the moment still a strikingly low level of phone access outside the urban sectors.

An innovative plan has been proposed to circumvent this problem. The scheme involves utilizing the existing cabling laid down alongside the railway network This cable, originally installing for control and communication, invariably has free bandwidth, which, according to electrical engineering professor and project leader Ashok Jhunjhunwala, invariably has spare capacity which could be utilized for data transmission. Jhunjhunwala noted that the railway network in India was extensively developed - "we have a railway station, on average, every 8 km". The plan, involving the construction of cybercafes in the railway stations, as well as providing wireless access to neighboring communities, could potentially help connect 4000 towns and over 100,000 households to the Net, within as little as 2 years.

The plan is currently in a test phase, with a small network being constructed along 40 km of railroad track linking 5 towns in South India. (3)

Public Communications Services

Certain public telephone offices now allow users to record video email messages, which can then be transmitted to established accounts just like regular text-based email. This service, provided at a reasonable fee, allows for effective long distance communication, crossing the barriers of both literacy and income.

The Information Villages Research Project

This represents a textbook effort at rural IT development. The project involved the setting-up of four 'Information Shops' in the villages of Embalam, Kizhur, Mangalam, and Veerampattinam in Pondicherry, located in South India. The area covered has an extremely poorly developed telecommunication network, with only 9 working public phones covering a population of 22,000. A local area network was designed, using VHF radio as a means of transmitting data. A hub was established in the village Villianur which was termed the "Value Addition Center" - here, project staff helped make online information available to local users. Each shop consists of a PC with multimedia capability, along with a printer, scanner, modem, and a specially designed interface. The shops allowed the village community to easily access the Internet, and provided an excellent means for inter-village communication. Some specific impacts of the experiment are enumerated below: (5)

  • In Embalam, a group of 48 women, all from the assetless labour families, have obtained insurance for themselves against accidental loss of life or limb. This is the first insurance ever done in this village, and this was brought about because of the information provided by the Shops.
  • Janakiraman (name changed) is a farmer in Embalam holding a plot of 2 acres. He started cultivating a hybrid variety ("Ponni") of paddy this year, the first time in six years. This time he obtained information on the price of seeds and its availability from the Shop at the right time. He mentions that two more farmers were enabled to cultivate "Ponni" similarly.
  • Sundari, a women labourer in Embalam, was able to negotiate better with a landed proprietor for wages this season. Part of her wage is paid in kind in grain. Knowledge of grain prices in the nearby markets enabled her to make it sure that she got the right quantity of grain as wage. Earlier, she had to go by whatever the land proprietor said was the price.
  • Lakshmi of Kizhur works as a labourer in the field. She possesses a hut which is her house. She had always been looking for additional income-earning opportunities. With the data available in the Shop, she identified a government sponsored program that provided credit and training for manufacture of incense sticks. Lakshmi got credit and training and today supplies incense sticks to a retail shop in Pondicherry.
  • Jayakrishnan, volunteer at Kizhur, mentions that a number of users who needed to spend an hour commuting to the nearby sugar refinery to get information on input (fertiliser) availability, have been able to save effort and time through placing phone calls to the factory managers.
  • Fourteen farmers in Kizhur have had their sugarcane crops ravaged in the previous two years by "Red rot" disease, resulting in unbearable losses. This year, prior to start of planting, they established contact through the Shop with an entomologist who prescribed easily implemented preventive measures.

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  1. Crishna, Vickram. Telecommunications in India: Thin Bones, Wasted Flesh
  2. Crishna, Vickram, et al. Telecommunications Infrastructure: A Long Way to Go
  3. McGivering, Jill. Fast track for Indian Internet
  4. - newsletter
  5. Knowledge System for Sustainable Food Security village/knowledge-system-concept.html
  6. Mehta, Dewang. Internet: India's Second Tryst with Destiny
  7. Rao, Madanmohan. Internet Content in India: Local Challenges, Global Aspirations
  8. Rao, Madanmohan. Online Content in South Asia: Opportunities and Realities
  9. An Internet Portal for Rural India
  10. Rao, Madanmohan, Transforming Citizens of Today into Netizens of Tomorrow: Indian Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu Leads the Way