Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Indian Telecentre Forum 2007


The present write-up on Telecentre Tales would cover the discussions and suggestions that came up during Indian Telecentre Forum of the eIndia 2007 Conference, which was held in Hotel Taj Palace (New Delhi, India), from 31 July 2007 to 2 August, 2007. Ms. Rumi Mallick from Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies (CSDMS), Noida (India) introduced the Indian Telecentre Forum, 2007. She informed that it was for the second time, Indian Telecentre Forum, a part of the eIndia Conference, would be taking stock of the telecentre movement in India and elsewhere. She said that the telecentre forum discussion would focus on Government of India's CSCs (Common Service Centres) scheme, and the other telecentre initiatives in the country. The objectives of the Indian Telecentre Forum is to raise awareness about the growing telecentre movement in general, and India in particular; raise key issues and challenges of telecentres; take up the recommendations of the current deliberation to the policy-makers for appropriate policy changes and build a community of practices (CoP) for knowledge-sharing and capacity-building.

July 31, 2007
Reviewing the emerging telecentre ecosystem

The first session of the Telecentre Forum of e-India Conference was chaired by Dr Srinivasan Ramakrishnan, Director General C-DAC, Pune. He informed that a lot of projects pertaining to telecentres in the ground are running on pilot basis. An entire gamut of factors determine the success of telecentres which include: infrastructure, content of portals, language of the content provided etc. He said that revolution in Information Technology has captured the imagination of people. There are very successful case studies. Nowadays, non-government organisations (NGOs) too are working together with the private sector. The Indian Telecentre Forum is a space which helps one to listen to various case studies. Y.S. Kim, e-Government Advisor, NITC, Government of Nepal (Republic of Korea), was the first speaker at the first session on telecentre. He informed that he has worked for 3 years in Nepal in the area of ICTs learning from rural Korea. Korea has good broadband connectivity. In rural areas of Korea, there still exists digital divide. Budget related to Information Technology is important. Korea has made huge investment on IT. In every village, investment on IT has been made. The budget for IT comes from the central and the local government. Information content is important since it generates income for people.

Dr. Baseerhamad Shadrach (Shaddy), Senior Programme officer, International Development Research Centre, New Delhi, said that his organisation was the one which introduced the term 'telecentre ecosystem'. Shaddy said that there are four key concepts to understand telecentres—Actor, Action, Actant and Tool. He added that the term ecosystem is related to tools. He reminded that IDRC funded telecentres for 20 years (the first generation telecentres). But 2-3 years back IDRC realised that telecentres cannot be funded in isolation. IDRC realised that for funding the second generation telecentres, there is need for investment in telecentre ecosystem. While explaining the term 'action', Shaddy said that 'action' in telecentre means connecting source (supply) with demand or vice-versa. While explaining the term 'actor', he said that actor is the telecentre manager. It should be ensured that the telecentre manager is not isolated. 'Actant' (although there is no such term in the dictionary) has been defined by Shaddy, as the people on which the act is acted upon. It basically refers to the community. The term 'Tool' was defined by Shaddy as the telecentre itself. The 'Tool' can be the computer, community radio or mobile handset. The answer lies with the community, on what should be termed as the tool. Balasundaram Muthukumara, Project Executer, Dhan Foundation who was the third speaker in the first session on 31 July, 2007 talked about Thagavalagam Telecentre movement. He informed that Dhan Foundation is a professional development organisation, which is working in India for the upliftment of the poor communities. He added that Thagavalagam telecentres are clustered under 15 hubs. The telecentres are supported by Dhan Foundation, ISRO and CAPART. He said that there are different wireless-based technologies in order to connect the telecentres such as CorDECT technology, and 802.16 Pre WiMax Technology. Offline services are offered by the telecentres in the areas like: computer education, e-School, job-related works, digital photography, Photo 2 CD services, Infotainment, functional literacy, agriculture, animal husbandry, health, gender, microfinance, insurance, adult literacy, fisheries, etc. Dr. Subarna Shakya, Executive Director, NITC, Nepal was the next speaker. He informed about school telecentres in Nepal which are located at the villages. Regarding the school telecentre, there was a survey study of Government telecentres in 2005. Results indicated that 80 percent of the telecentres were not sustainable. Majority of the community members including the students could not afford services offered at the telecentres. The long-term benefits of telecentres are: increased literacy rate; ICT driven education and ICT for village development. The short-term benefits of telecentres are: decreased drop out rate among students; increased enrollment rate among students; students can become part of the Information Revolution after training, etc. Sandeep Kaur, Researcher, P.S.G. College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, was the fifth speaker. Her presentation cross-checked whether e-Governance was a hype or reality. The presentation focused on the potential challenges on implementing e-Governance in Tamil Nadu to serve the marginalised populace via the RASI kiosks, and the significance of kiosks in this respect. Her presentation was an attempt to examine the significance of kiosk development in the context of e-Government policies through a case study on RASI Kiosks implemented in Melur district in the state of Tamil Nadu. Though the e-Government services were received with great enthusiasm by rural communities since its inception in November 2001, the project failed to sustain and came to an end by December 2002 while some of the private services sustained. To have greater future success, policymakers and public IT managers should pay close attention to long-term business planning, strategic management, and stakeholder partnership in future kiosk development and similar e-Government projects, as per Sandeep Kaur. The final speaker of the day was Ahmad MM Eisa, Chairman of GDCO, Sudan. He informed that Gedaref Digital City has community telecentres equipped with a high technical facilities. It is the first digital city in Sudan. He informed about the partnership between the great people of Eindhoven represented by digital city of Eindhoven (DSE-Netherlands- Ben Waumans and the Board of Directors) and Gedaref community which is represented by Gedaref Digital City (GDCO). He said that the objective of GDCO is to develop the community by using Information Technology. The goals are to enable the community to reach and cope with the electronic era, capacity building of the community, and help the society have their voice heard, and their memory activated for utilisation and documentation for the state. He explained how the GDCO is helping the disabled. He said that disabled individuals are still excluded from many areas of life including information technologies (IT). GDCO is helping the disabled in the areas of IT and ICTs because ICT training is an important key qualification. Most of the disabled are very poor. Disabled are considered a useless community and no one care about them. Usage of ICTs is not part of Sudanese culture. However, imparting ICTs training can make the disabled to be self dependent and help their families. There is need for the integration of disabled in the community. There is also the need for fighting poverty through ICT, as per Ahmad. Because of GDCO's efforts, disabled are using ICTs for communications (chatting and emailing) instead of using sign languages. GDCO established telecentres for them which help both the disabled (by providing them employment opportunities) and the community (training and capacity building). The main challenges before GDCO are: lack of strategic and executable plans with clear time-bound targets; poor infrastructure especially power supply, high cost of ICT equipment, poorly designed schools' capacity and curriculum, lack of community involvement, awareness and interaction, unavailability of funding and non-usage of Internet (which is part of Sudanese culture).

August 1, 2007

CSC Programme: Sharing visions for shared access

S. Abbasi, Sr.Director, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, GoI, chaired the first session held on 1 August 2007. He informed that private sectors are going for the CSCs scheme for tapping the rural market, despite agriculture contributing a lower proportion to the gross domestic product (GDP). He said that in the recent years, the impact of policies on CSCs scheme has been noticed. In the next 2-3 years, reliable broadband connectivity would be seen. R.K. Maiti, Joint Secretary, Department of PR&RD, West Bengal, informed that the CSCs scheme in West Bengal has been termed as Tathya Mitra. West Bengal has to establish 6,797 rural CSCs, he added. SREI Sahaj e-Village Ltd., WIPRO, Reliance Communications, and Samtec Technologies were elected through open bidding. Objective of ICT policy are: economic development, improving quality of life, ensuring good governance and promote high internal efficiency. The letter of intent has been issued on 2nd March, 2007 and signing of MSA took place on 5th April, 2007 with SREI and on 7th May, 2007 with Reliance. Rural West Bengal has been divided into 8 zones—two zones have been awarded to Reliance and 6 zones have been awarded to SREI infrastructure. Main areas to be targeted under MMP of NeGP are: Land and Land Reforms department, social welfare, agriculture and allied activities, transport, police, education, registration, etc. Other schemers covered for e-Governance are: e-Health, e-Medicine. He said that eliminating middle-men is the need of the day. Kshatrapati Shivaji, Secretary IT, Government of Maharashtra, the next speaker, said that ICTs has brought revolutionary changes. ICTs has blurred geographical barriers, economic barriers, and is an effective instrument in globalisation. Virtual world has taken over the real world. Places where there is no infrastructure can be reached out through ICTs. CSCs will help in economic development. He informed that Maharashtra has its own SETU programme. There exists Mahanet in Maharashtra, which provides grid all over the state. Upgradation of district headquarters will take place via SWAN. A roadmap for a period of 3 years has been prepared for Maharashtra. New projects are planned to be started on pilot basis which can be replicated. Capacity-building of Department of Information Technology (DIT) is needed. In Maharashtra, SCAs will go for bidding in 6 different places, he added. 7,285 CSCs will come up in Maharashtra, and they will be integrated. The CSCs will be opened in the gram panchayat premises. In Baramati, IL&FS has started a pilot project on CSCs from January, 2007 onwards.

V.S. Kundu, Special Secretary IT, Haryana was the third speaker. He said that e-Governance revolution is just around the corner. The time is ripe for e-Governance because e-Government measures are coming into existence. A lot of technological solutions are available. Citizens and government are becoming more aware about e-Governance. People have realised that e-Governance improves efficiency and saves time. Even 'babus' and 'clerks' have changed their attitude towards e-Governance. A lot of help is coming from the Right to Information Act. CSCs scheme have been prepared carefully under the public private partnership (PPP) mode to make it successful. Sustainability is assured through B2B services. Private players cannot provide neutral playing field to their competitors. In Haryana, flexibilities were given to SCAs to design the B2C services. In Haryana, SCAs were appointed on the basis of revenue-division. 3iInfotech is working in Gurgaon. Hughes Network Systems is working in Rohtak. 1,159 rural CSCs have come up in rural Haryana and 212 CSCs have come up in urban areas of Haryana. Some of the CSCs are already operating. The mandate is to make 40 percent of CSCs workable by October, 2007. SCAs believe that the target will be met earlier. The real challenge is readiness of G2C services. The SCAs will identify the VLEs. In 3 out of 4 divisions of Haryana, CSCs are operating. There are 6 CSCs in Ambala, 1 in Hissar, and more than 40 in Rohtak. In Gurgaon, sample centres would be coming up. Navin Kumar, Principal Secretary, IT, Government of Bihar, said that CSCs scheme is about government's initiative to provide web-enabled services to citizens. There are critical areas such as: SWAN, SCAs and CSCs. He informed that Bihar has 8,463 panchayats. So one CSC in each panchayat is envisioned to be established. For 8 of the 9 divisions, SCAs have been identified. Apart from SREI, there are two more players. The MSA is expected to be signed in the month of August, 2007. He informed about kisan soochna kendras run by Jai Kisan in Uttarakhand. He informed that SCAs will take up the onus to set up infrastructure, by partnering with VLEs. But no roll-out of CSCs has taken place in Bihar.

Pranav Roach, President, Hughes Network Systems India, said that in 2000, the IT scenario was far from being fair. The IT policy of 1999 was not conducive for the growth of the IT industry. In India, there are 200 million mobile users, but voice connectivity is missing. There are some futuristic application. The success of the IT industry can affect the CSCs scheme. PC penetration is low in India. There are only 20 million PCs for a population of 1.1 billion people. Availability of online connectivity device for serious applications is negligible in India. The vital issue is what type of services would be delivered by the private players. There is excessive optimism about the effective implementation of CSCs scheme. The critical factor is policy framework. The type of business and revenue sharing model chosen would determine the fate of the sustainability of CSCs. For inclusive growth, access, community infrastructure is required along with broadband connectivity. The ecosystems will be shaped by government policy. In Haryana, there are 1,500 telecentres which are working outside the purview of CSCs scheme. In the case of B2C services, one telecentre located in a developed area can earn a revenue of INR 20,000 to 25,000. People are now ready to use IT and ICT applications. CSC Programme: Stocktaking on key opportunities and challengesAruna Sundararajan, CEO, CSC programme, IL & FS, New Delhi chaired the second session held on 1 August, 2007. R.P. Pal, IT Secretary, Government of Goa, was the first speaker in this session. He informed that Goa performed well in areas like: quality of life, health and infrastructure, apart from e-Governance. Optical fibres have been laid in all talukas. Government would be getting revenue under the PPP mode of CSCs scheme. In 2002, Goa set up 13 experimental CSCs, which are called Mahiti Ghars. 10 services are provided through Mahiti Ghars, which include land records, licenses, etc. Regulating the pricing of the services being provided is essential. When more services are offered, the prices charged should go down. For broadband network, end-users would be charged. Currently, the bandwidth provided is sufficient for business transaction in Goa. Ravi Kumar, Executive Director, Alternative for India Development, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, said that the programmes of the Government of India should target the poor. He informed that his organisation is working for more than 25 years. He took the case study of Jharkhand. He informed that his organisation provides a lot of services like basic education, health services, opportunities for livelihood for the poor etc. CSCs scheme is a convergent programme. There are 600 panchayats with 3,000 villages with a population of 3 million in Jharkhand. CSCs uses the power of ICTs to reach out to the poor. The approach of CSCs scheme should be bottom-up and not top-down. CSCs should be community-driven. He explained about the problem of political extremism, which is affecting the implementation of the CSCs scheme in Jharkhand. Mass migration and hunger related deaths take place in Jharkhand. In the last 30 years, no election has taken place for the panchayats. Decentralisation has not taken place in Jharkhand. Even district collectors are unaware of the Right to Information Act. They think that RTI Act is used for blackmailing bureaucrats. Although Jharkhand is resource-rich, but its people are poor. L.K. Tiwari, Additional Chief General Manager, MPDCL, Madhya Pradesh, said that SCAs have not been appointed in Madhya Pradesh. CSCs are functioning in some form or the other on an experimental basis in various states. ITC established e-Choupal in MP, under a special ordinance. ITC was allowed to procure food grain/crops directly from farmers and pay the 'mandi' tax directly to the government. He informed that the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad has selected the transport department of MP for its study. The process of issuing driving license is completely computerised in MP. There is no manual processing of Treasury Bills. Srinivas Tadigadapa, Head South Asia, World Ahead Programme, Intel, spoke about the problem of power shortage in rural India. He said that last mile connectivity in rural hinterland is required. D.C. Mishra, Senior Technical Director, NIC, New Delhi, was the last speaker. He said that CSCs can be helpful for entrepreneurs to enter the market. In the recent years automation of the government programmes have taken place. He informed that the NIC and Stanford University USA (Asia Pacific Research Centre in Stanford) study looked at adoption and consumption capacity of village-level community to use CSCs. He mentioned about some projects like Gyandoot, HPI community initiative, panchayat driven initiatives in Belandhar, Buddhi Kote, n-Logue, Akshaya project of Kerala and Warana Wired Village. If need arises, adequate changes need to be made in CSC logistics. He drew everyone's attention to: poor quality of web-content, digital divide, lack of proper business models, financial sustainability, technological sustainability, inadequate generation of capital, inadequate connectivity and 24x7 delivery modes. He said that laying of optical fibres can be helpful in getting broadband connectivity. It was also informed that CSC investment would range from INR 1.25-INR 3.00 lakh. Aruna Sundararajan during the question and answer session, said that the role of IL&FS is to support SCA as well as SDA. Once the bidding process is over, SCA has the responsibility to run and maintain the centre. IL&FS is working at national level and supporting DIT to bring some of the big service providers and give them platform. But still lots of challenges are there.

The key challenges are: a) Setting up infrastructure on the ground level; b) Delivery of services; and c) Sustainability of kiosks. She informed that there is no corporate involved in ground level. While replying to Vijay from iKisan, D.C. Mishra said that e-Governance services are meant for block panchayat, district panchayat and tehsil level. Other services, which can be provided are IGNOU, computer training and certificating programmes. There are departmental exams, online exams, which can be conducted through CSC centres. Content services and financial sustainability-making the connectionV. Balaji, Head of Knowledge Management and Sharing, ICRISAT chaired the third session. He asked Dr. Kentaro Toyama, Assistant Managing Director, Microsoft Research India to give his presentation. Dr. Kentaro Toyama quoted the definition of telcentres as PC equipped centre facilitating people for various services. These are some kind of services, which are computerised. He said that he is not focusing on those telecentres, which are fully funded by NGOs or the government, but on those telecentres, which are willing to work as a business. He visited around 50 kiosks, and culled out some key challenges and opportunities for e-Kiosks. To run PC based kiosks is a difficult proposition, and also it is challenging to garner funds. There are a long list of services for running the kiosk. There was mention of e-Seva, and Comat telecentres in Karnataka. The government their has closed these e-Services from their government offices and now it is these kiosks that are providing the e-Services. Eventually the customers are forced to go to these kiosks. Since these are private businesses, so they provide better services than traditional government offices. Also, there is much demand for kiosks as computer training centres.

Building partnership for outreach, scaling up and sustainability

Vikram Chand, Senior Public Sector Management Specialist, World Bank India, chaired the fourth session. The other discussants were: Gerolf Weigel, Head - ICT4D, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Berne, Switzerland; Rufina Fernandes, CEO, NASSCOM Foundation, Mumbai; Dr Harsha Liyanage, Managing Director - Fusion, Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka; Vikas Goswami, Lead-Corporate Social Responsi-bility, Microsoft, India; and Shahid Akbar, ICT Consultant, KATALYST, Bangladesh.

August 2, 2007

Addressing the access challenge

Ashis Sanyal, Sr. Director, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, GoI, chaired the first session held on 2 August, 2007. He informed that BSNL has the mandate of reaching out to the rural areas for providing access points. He also reminded about the PCO model and Cyber Cafe model that spread in the entire India. R.N. Padukone, Sr. Deputy Director General (TEC), Ministry of Communications & IT, GoI (http://www.tec.gov.in/), was the first speaker in Telecentre Tales forum during the first session on 2nd August 2007. He spoke on the nationwide inter-operable broadband network for rural safety requirement. He said that 700 Mhz is the ideal spectrum for rural areas, as per the legislation in USA, which can cover a radius of 30 km. He also spoke about the creation of National Broadband Authority--NBA (a government body). The roles of NBA would be: a) Defining terrestrial coverage requirement; b) Defining network specifications; c) Defining user control and establish necessary protocols for user-priority and inter-operability; d) Defining reliability levels and work in the area of redundancy arrangements; e) Establishing capacity requirements; f) Developing procedures for setting additional capacity when necessary; g) Developing procedures to manage authorities relationship with commercial carrier licenses; h) Negotiating with equipment and service vendors; i) Coding at optimal pricing and packages; j) Looking at activation and deactivation units; k) Developing technological and production roadmap for public safety by keeping the network evergreen; l) Administering revenue stream including distribution of negative auction money; m) Looking at network usage charges. Sweta Jain, WIMAX/WIMESH Solutions Manager, Nortel Networks, India, made her presentation on government services reaching to rural masses through e-Governance. She informed that services of e-Governance can be in the area of G2B, G2C and G2G. She said that ICTs can also be provided to government employees. She informed that there exists spectral shortage in India. Masses can be reached via 5.8 and 2.4 Ghz. GSM, CDMA and WiMax, are needed to be placed in an inter-operable platform. She also talked on Orthogonal Frequency Divisional Multiple (OFDM), which comprises of High Speed Downing Packet Access (HSDPA), EVTO (for CDMA) and LTE (for 3G). OFDM provides spectral efficiency. WiMax can work on unlicensed bands. WiFi's range in rural areas is not good. WiMax has low operational cost. There are standards for WiMax which is 802.16 B. 270. Operators globally have deployed WiMax. She spoke on network infrastructure too. CPE is used for getting access to broadbands. K.B. Narayanan, Director, Head - Broadband Technology Division, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India spoke on the status of broadband last mile accessibility. Affordability aspect was the focus of his presentation. He said that broadband supports high-speed data transfer. Broadband brings efficiency. Internet and broadband are catalysts for social and economic development. Broadband provides end-users with packet based digital voice, video and data services. Last mile bandwidth bottlenecks is solved via broadband. There is need for e-Inclusion of rural masses. In October 2004 Government of India announced the broadband policy, which specifies 256 Kbps as the minimum downloadable speed. The factors affecting broadband are: access cost, availability of local language content, customer premises equipment, value proposition, increasing demand for bandwidth application, making bandwidth available at reasonable cost etc. The effort made by Government of India are: a) Progressive reduction in call charges, national long distance bandwidth charges and international long-distance bandwidth charges; b) Reduction in customer premises equipment price; c) Local language content is rising; and d) More spectrum is available to service providers by releasing it for other captive uses. He informed that the Year 2007 has been announced the Year of the Broadband. Sandeep Gupta, Senior Engineering Manager, Product Marketing and Management, Motorola, informed that Motorola helps in provision of broadband services. Broadband can help in provision of e-governance services, tele-medicine services etc. which can transform the economy and society. The challenges are: a) Poor infrastructure; b) Poor infrastructure including power supply; c) Low affordability; and d) Lack of spectrum efficiency. Solutions are needed in the form of low Opex and Capex to provide affordable broadband connectivity. Measuring the social impacts of telecentresDuring the second session held on 2nd August 2007, Alok Bhargava, Chief Executive, Rural CSC Programme, IL&FS, explained that IL&FS is working with Government of India for implementation of CSCs scheme. There is need for looking at the outcomes of establishing CSCs.

Chetan Sharma Founder, Datamation Foundation Charitable Trust, New Delhi, informed that one-third of government services and two-third of private services are going to be delivered via telecentres and CSCs. Enormous changes have taken place in India. Sharma also mentioned about Bhoomi (Karnataka), Akshaya (Malappuram), Datamation Foundation, Warana Milk Co-operative, etc. He asked for the need of institutional sustainability, technological and infrastructural sustainability, and livelihood sustainability. Namrata Bali, General Secretary, SEWA, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, said that village knowledge centres, CSCs and CLCs are essential for rural development. She informed that SEWA has a membership of more than 10 lakh women. She mentioned about the presence of SHGs, mandals, DWCRA groups, co-operative societies in Gujarat. SEWA women members have created various indicators via focus group discussion on employment, income, nutrition, health (including reproductive health), micro-finance and asset-building, housing (including housing, sanitation, sewerage), women's empowerment and leadership, self-reliance, collective and social empowerment. Diaries are written by grass-root women on a daily basis which is reflective of the problems they face regularly pertaining to livelihood, poverty, income generation, etc. Ram Gopal, Partner, Byrraju Foundation, Hyderabad informed about his organisation and the functions it performs. He said that Byrraju Foundation works in 180 villages of 6 districts of Andhra Pradesh. It has implemented a project on rural bandwidth wireless connectivity project, which offers a basket of services by working with Media Lab Asia and United Nations Development Programme. Knowledge sharing for strengthening community and networks: How do we leverage the web 2.0?Ashwant Gnanavelu, Manager HR, DesiCrew Solutions, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, informed that DesiCrew established rural BPO centre apart from investing in infrastructure. DesiCrew offer backoffice services to clients. They are working in Tamil Nadu. 50 percent of DesiCrew's associates are girls. R.K. Maiti's (Jt Secretary, Department of PR and RE, West Bengal) presentation was on knowledge sharing. He said that Indian society must be knowledge-based, but it will have to be a knowledge-sharing society. He said that there is necessity of change in the mindset from one that works for the people to one that works with the people. He also asked for democratic institutions of service delivery. Ashis Sanyal also participated in this session which brought out some key recommendations to continue the dialogue.

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