Low-Cost ICT Solutions for Rural India
Sam Kapoor— Manger, Resource Mobilization and Partnerships
Although we all know India is one of the largest contributors to the IT development across the globe, we are lacking IT initiative in our own villages. On paper, the Government of India spends a lot of money promoting information and communication technology (ICT) for development (ICTD). Yet ICTD solutions remain a distant dream in villages. Rural household internet connectivity is abysmally low (0.45%) and even cell phone subscribers in rural areas are much fewer than those in urban areas (see chart on right). As of now, the roll-out status of Common Service Centres (CSC) –the “front-end delivery points for government, private and social sector services to citizens of India (CSC Scheme, under the 2006 National e-Governance Plan (NeGP)”—is not very encouraging. The Government of Haryana, for example, failed to roll out the promised 1,159 CSCs in rural areas.
These challenges not withstanding, ICTD solutions are slowly changing the lives of rural people. The cell phone penetration rate in rural areas is still low but steadily rising (see chart on right). We are observing an increasingly visible impact of mobile technology on rural people’s lives. In District Mewat, Haryana, cell phones have become key in obtaining timely information inexpensively. The villagers are listening to their community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat FM 107.8 through their cell phones. In Tamil Nadu, SMS, voice and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) alerts are helping farmers save their crops from upcoming bad weather.
Innovative, low-cost computers and tablet pc can further accelerate rural development. The i-state tablet is a solar-powered tablet (micro computers) requiring minimum electricity. 50,000 students in rural Andhra Pradesh are expecting to test this tablet thanks to an initiative by Rice University, US, and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. There are many more examples of technologies improving the lives of people across rural India. Let’s see how these innovations will change rural lives.
 “Internet Revolution Bypasses Rural India: Survey.” The Hindu. May 6, 2012. http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/internet/article3390353.ece
 Vision and Objectives of Common Service Centres Scheme. Accessed on June 20, 2012. http://www.csc-india.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=103&Itemid=349
 CSC Rollout Status Across India (April 2012). Common Service Centres Scheme, Department of Information Technology, the Government of India. Accessed on June 20, 2012. http://csc.gov.in/cscstatus/cscstatus.html
 “Indian school kids test Rice University’s solar-powered tablet PC.” Future News Network. Accessed on June 20, 2012. http://futurenewsnetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=25937:indian-school-kids-test-rice-university%E2%80%99s-solar-powered-tablet-pc&catid=89:eco&Itemid=99&lang=en
Pahwa, Nikhil. “Chart of The Day: Urban vs Rural Mobile Connections” Media NAMA, Aug 8, 2011 http://www.medianama.com/2011/08/223-chart-of-the-day-urban-vs-rural-mobile-connections/