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  India keeps on connecting

The first story that GoodNewsIndia wrote on the so-called ‘digital divide’ debunked the very idea of a divide.  An Indian maybe unlettered and poor but she is not dumb. He will spring the money it takes to buy a gadget or subscribe to a system as long he perceives an advantage. India is indeed a great market for convivial technologies. Since that first story appeared in June 2001, a stream of developments have only confirmed that the Indian you tend to undervalue is a fair adept with information technology and welcomes a lucrative new idea. There was an update on the story later. Here’s another one—in no particular order of significance or time.

Since Nov 2002, 38 far flung villages in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai District have been wirelessly connected from a server in Melur. Many big names were involved in the project: the iconic Prof Ashok Jhunjhunwala of Chennai IIT, MIT’s Media Lab, the Berkman Center of Harvard University and ICICI Bank. The network was implemented by Sustainable Access in Rural India [SARI]. A story in the New Indian Express [Nov 14,2002] reports an innovative use of web cams. For minor eye ailments villagers need not trek long distances. The network is connected to the famous Arvind Eye Hospital which carries out preliminary screening. Chatting on the web, is not it seems an urban weakness any more. Zahira Umma of Keelavalavu village can’t talk enough with her husband in Dubai using the Melur Net. And she can see him too, the while. It’s all good business for the kiosk owner.

For over two years now Chennai’s EID Parry has been running to connect with the sugarcane farmers it deals with. Primarily begun to instantly render accounts, it has grown to become an web based intranet that sells farm inputs to them and also provides usable information and services.

The legendary Amul of Anand, Gujarat has a similar net—Dairy Information System Kiosk [DISK]-- but as you might expect from Amul it’s only deeper and bigger. When done, the net will cover 70,000 village milk societies. Right now about 2500 village level kiosks have been connected. Apart from milk accounts, the kiosks offer telephony, market intelligence, fund management, information on best practices, and innovations and downloadable forms a dairyman needs.

BusinessLine on Feb 15,2003 carried a charming a story. he Department of Posts and Telegraphs has been since Dec 2002, sending a mobile phone with rural post men. And you thought our Government was a dowdy old fossil. The refreshing change is that the postman shares the commission with the state, thereby motivating him to make the service reliable. An aside that the story throws up, is how widely dispersed Indians are. The story’s postman in Medinipur District in West Bengal is constantly being hailed by wage labourers in the paddy fields wanting to make calls to dear ones in Maharashtra, Delhi or Amritsar.

WorldSpace, the satellite radio broadcaster has teamed up with India’s Vigyan Prasar to educate rural India in Science and Technology. Vigyan Prasar has 4500 Science Clubs in schools around the country. It has given away satellite receivers to a few of these to assess how the programme works.

802.11-WiFi may be a lifestyle chic in the west and may be trickling in to 5-star hotel foyers in India.  But it has arrived in rural India. Media Lab Asia [MLA] a joint venture between the Indian Government and MIT has established a 75 km WiFi corridor between Kanpur and Lucknow. Typically WiFi has a reach of 300 metre radius, but MLA has innovated with directional antennas and amplifiers to extrude the cover to a 35 km corridor.  The first implementation has two hops of 35 km each. It’s good for voice and data. When testing is done, the Digital Gangetic Plain as the venture has been named, may propel the cow belt over the moon.

Finally here’s a story that can’t get more Indian. IIT-Kanpur has developed a mobile Internet kiosk for rural India. No, don’t even begin to guess what it might be. It’s a dust proof unit on board a cycle rickshaw, called InfoThela,. It will connect wirelessly to the web. It has a battery bank that will be charged as the entrepreneur pedals from street to street, village to village. You can hail one soon to send an email.

If you are still with the ‘digital divide’ sobbers, you are entitled to your pigeons for messaging.
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