Information For Change

   Date: 30-03-2010
 Source: Businessworld

The speed of the Internet continues to increase dramatically, shrinking the world and creating new opportunities by delivering vast amounts of content to mobile devices. But the increasing speeds could create expectations and social pressures that governments are not prepared to meet. Countries need to have educated populations and good technological infrastructure to take advantage of the opportunities created by higher speeds. South Korea and Singapore score well on some readiness scales, but India lags behind. Still, there’s hope that information technology could give many Indians a better life if the country can improve its infrastructure. With access to resources not dissimilar from cities, individuals would gladly remain in rural areas, averting the destabilizing effects of urbanization. – YaleGlobalAccess to information technology can change the lives of the dispossessed by giving them hope for a better life

The first international telegraphic message, sent by Queen Victoria in 1858, was tapped out in dots and dashes and took some 16 hours to reach President James Buchanan in Washington. In March this year, Cisco Systems announced the launch of a new Internet router that can transmit vast amounts of digital data in the blink of an eye. This technological advance not only promises to shrink the globe further, but also opens up new opportunities to those who are prepared to grab them. This torrent of information that would be enveloping us could push the revolution in rising expectations to a new level, exacerbating social tensions, especially if education standards and infrastructure development do not keep pace.

Cisco’s new generation network routing system will allow downloads of up to 322 terabits per second. This is an absolutely staggering advance in data transfer speed, equivalent to the contents of more than 70,000 DVDs or 4 billion MP3 music tracks per second. To be sure, there is no network, computer or hard disk in the market today that could handle such speeds. But once those become available, they will take away the monopoly of cable television operators and transform Internet service providers into entertainment content distributors. It will enable mobile phone operators to stream videos to cell phones. As increasingly larger number of Internet users move to a mobile platform, evening news and sitcom programmes will be broadcast onto screens held in the palm of a hand. In a place like India, where the number of cellphone subscribers is growing at a breakneck speed and providers scrambling to win their loyalty, high-speed video delivery would be an attractive option.

Even before Cisco unveiled its superfast routers, Google had plunged into the broadband business. In February, it said that it would build and test a broadband network offering one gigabit per second download speeds in a few trial locations across the US. The announcement has sparked competition among American towns to win Google’s favour, with mayors and municipal officials convinced that high-speed broadband would attract businesses. Indeed, the experience of other countries has shown that broadband connectivity allows new levels of creativity and productivity by enabling collaboration among geographically dispersed actors with varied experiences.

According to the Networked Readiness Index prepared by business school INSEAD and the World Economic Forum, South Korea’s capital Seoul is most ready for this future. The country also boasts of the best-developed e-government services in the world. Singapore ranks second in its network readiness, followed closely by Hong Kong and Taiwan. With its 80 computers per 100 people, and the highest number of utility patents per million population, Taiwan is “one of the world’s most prolific innovators”.

By comparison, India’s infrastructure and educational levels lag behind not just its East Asian neighbours, but even other poor countries. For all its expertise in business process outsourcing and software coding, India ranks 83rd in information infrastructure, and 107th in bandwidth. Skilled manpower, the key resource for IT development, remains short. In tertiary education enrolment, India ranks 100th among 130 countries. Even India’s fast growth in mobile telephony does not look as impressive against its vast population with no connectivity. With 29.3 cellphones per 100 people, India ranks 116th in teledensity.

Given the growing ability of mobile telephones to act as mini computers, the relatively inexpensive device offers tremendous opportunities to business, education and entertainment. Making mobile phones and solar chargers available at the cheapest possible price to rural India would provide a great stimulant for growth. With the growing pressures for urbanisation, India’s countryside needs modernisation ever faster to stem the pell-mell rush to the cities. If broadband could be used to attract business to small towns in India, as is happening in the US, the provision of inexpensive connectivity to Indian villages just might offer enough opportunities to dissuade potential emigrants to the country’s vast and growing urban slums.

Communications alone may not create jobs, but combined with roads, electricity and business loans, it could create enough reasons to stay. That way, instead of destabilising the dispossessed, access to information technology might give them hope for a better life.

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