Broadband connectivity key to bridge digital divide: Kalam

NEW DELHI: President APJ Abdul Kalam laid out his vision for the Commonwealth Connect programme at Vigyan Bhavan here today, stressing the call of the hour is to shift from information to a knowledge society.

Inaugurating the Commonwealth Connects summit Kalam said, "The telecom revolution in India has opened multiple windows of opportunities and the benefits of this revolution are in the process of percolating to the vast majority of our villages. It is through this network that people living in the villages would be able to access modern education, healthcare services and employment opportunities. And I believe, this would be true for many countries in the Commonwealth spectrum. Broadband connectivity is key to realising the stated socio-economic goals."


He stressed that large scale utilisation of local languages would enable people of the Commonwealth to create content with ease and authenticity which, when shared, would have a positive effect in the growth of economy of all the countries of Commonwealth through the benefits of telecom revolution and related internet and multimedia tools.


"Bandwidth is demolisher of imbalances and a great leveller in the knowledge society. Making the bandwidth available is like the government laying the roads," he said.

"In the modern digital economy driven by knowledge products, bits and bytes traverse the network and create wealth and this will recover the cost of investments in the bandwidth. Thus, a singular action of making the bandwidth available to all our people will bridge the perceived divide. The free bandwidth will make economic sense if we appropriately cost the services offered using the bandwidth," he added.

India has the fiber infrastructure ready up to block level, last mile wireless technologies are being implemented and the VSAT technologies for the unreachable are in place in the form of satellite services. "Hence, we are well on course to bridge the digital gap. We are in the midst of convergence of digital technologies," Kalam said.

The total installed bandwidth capacity in India is in the range of 19-20 Terra bytes and lit-up capacity is progressively increasing with enhanced economic activity.

Explaining that 70 per cent of Indians live in villages, he said: "We are in the process of a societal transformation towards sustainable development for our growth. This we propose to realise in a time-bound manner through a knowledge society for empowering the entire nation. Electronic and knowledge connectivity is the key to realise this goal. Connecting a billion people gives multiple challenges."

Sharing the Indian experience, he said that in the proposed model in this country, the inter-connectivity among the three sectors of the economy is brought about by four grids.

He said these are the Knowledge Grid, Health Grid, e-Governance Grid and the Rural Grid.

"Each grid is a system of multiple portals. This system of grid will bring prosperity to 700 million people in the rural areas and 300 million plus people in the urban areas. In the process, it will ensure that the lives of 220 million people are transformed from below the poverty line."

Though India has rich knowledge institutions, what needs to be added is connectivity.

"This connectivity today is technologically possible but would need creation of high bandwidth reliable network infrastructure to the extent of minimum 10 Gigabits per second all through the country to provide uniform access of knowledge in different regions leading to the creation of Knowledge Grid," Kalam held.

The mission of telemedicine with healthcare Grid is gaining momentum and it will spread to all the equipped primary health centres in the country, medical colleges and research institutions. Connectivity between 35 urban super-specialty hospitals with 165 remotely located healthcare centres has been established through Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) telemedicine grid, he informed.

Good governance is being recognised as an important goal by many countries across the world. They have taken up specific initiatives for open and transparent governance. Freedom of information is being redefined and supported by detailed guidelines, he said.

"The internet revolution has proved to be a powerful tool for good governance initiatives. An important dimension of the internet potential is the possibility of providing services any time anywhere. Along with this there is a conscious effort to put the citizen as the centre of focus of the governance.

"Citizens are being perceived as customers and clients. E-governance has to be citizen friendly. Delivery of services to citizens is considered as a primary function of the government.

"Particularly in a democratic nation of a billion people like India, e-Governance should enable seamless access to information and seamless flow of information across the state and central government in the federal setup crossing the inter-departmental barriers.

It is on this point that he took up the future vision, with election as the model, and using a presentation he had developed, showed how everything can be done - including voting - from homes and offices, and the audience went into splits with his side remarks on politicians, their education levels, bank balances and credits taken and said, using all the indices, an officer would be able to decided who would make a successful politician!

"Typical scenario: I visualize an election scenario, where a candidate files his nomination from a particular constituency. Immediately the election officer verifies his/her authenticity from the national citizen ID database through multifactor authentication, through a multipurpose Citizen ID card.

"The education credentials of the candidate come from the university records. Candidate‘s track record of employment comes from various employers with whom the candidate had worked. His or her income and wealth resources come from the income-tax department, and other sources. Candidate‘s property record comes from the registration of land authority across the country. Candidate‘s credit history comes form various credit institutions like banks. Candidate‘s civic consciousness and citizenship behaviour comes from the police crime record. Candidate‘s legal track records come from the judicial system.

"All the details arrive at the computer terminal of the election officer within few seconds automatically by the act of e-Governance software agents which crawls across the various state and central government web services directories through the network Grid and collects the information automatically and presents the facts in real-time without any bias.

"Artificial intelligence software analyses the credentials of the candidate and gives a rating on how successful he or she will be as a politician."

"Election officer sitting at the remote block of the country decides on the spot and the election process starts. All the voters vote from their home through virtual polling booths. If we consider the breakthroughs and expansion in telecommunication and internet in the last five years, this visualization is no longer a dream and is possible to be achieved by many nations.

"To establish a system what I have visualized, we need a high bandwidth broadband connectivity across the many Government departments such as State and District Administration, Election commission, Universities, Banks, Home/Police Departments, Insurance companies etc.,

"This scenario requires vertical and horizontal e-Governance grid established across various institutions and the Government. Hence, we can draw information and feed information from these GRIDs for seamless flow of data to achieve the goal of good governance. Now let me discuss the significance of the sustainable development through establishing Rural Grid," Kalam said.

India with six hundred thousand villages and seven hundred million people living in the rural areas needs an unique rural development model called PURA. PURA envisages provision of three connectivities namely physical connectivity, electronic connectivity and knowledge connectivity leading to economic connectivity, Kalam said.

"For providing the knowledge connectivity to the PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) complexes, Village Knowledge Centres will act as frontline delivery system. The Village Knowledge Centre should provide the essential data required for the targeted population such as farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, traders, businessmen, entrepreneurs, unemployed youth and the students.

"Now the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology is in the process of establishing 100,000 Common Service Centre (CSC‘s) across the country through public-private partnership model.

"We have so far discussed all the four connectivities at the national level required for the societal transformation leading to empowerment. Now, I would like to share with you the experience of establishing a Pan African e-Network for providing connectivity among 53 African nations," he said.

During the year 2003-04, Kalam had visited African countries such as Sudan, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa.

"I addressed the Pan African Parliament on 16 Sept 2004, at Johannesburg, South Africa which was attended by Heads of 53 member countries of the African Union. Based on my study of the communication, healthcare and education needs of the African countries, I proposed the concept of Pan African e-Network for providing seamless and integrated satellite, fibre optics and wireless network connecting 53 African countries," he said.

The Pan-African e-Network project is estimated to cost around US$100 million. As part of the project 12 universities (7 from India and 5 from Africa), 17 Super Specialty Hospitals (12 from India and 5 from Africa), 53 tele-medicine centers and 53 tele-education centres in Africa will be connected, he explained.

The pilot project on tele-education and tele-medicine in Ethiopia has already been commissioned. One of our Indian Universities has taken up the MBA Course for 34 Ethiopian students of Addis Ababa and Harmaya Universities. As regards, tele-medicine, the specialists from CARE Hospital, Hyderabad are providing one-hour live tele-consultation to doctors in Black Lion Hospital, Addis Ababa in Cardiology and Radiology since November 2006.

The Pan African e-Network will primarily provide Tele-Education, Tele-Medicine, internet, videoconferencing and VOIP services. It also supports e-Governance, e-Commerce, infotainment, resource mapping and meteorological services. Each remote location will be able to access the internet through the network by linking the HUB to internet backbone. Using this network the Heads of the State in all the 53 countries will be connected for instant communication.

The network is designed to have 169 terminals and a central hub to deliver tele-education and tele-medicine services. The proposed network will utilize state-of-the-art technology and can be integrated with the latest broadband technologies like Wi-Fi and Wi-Max. The network is scalable to support different applications catering to increased number of users. "I am happy to inform you that 22 countries will be connected in the first half of 2007 and the rest will be operationalised by early 2008," Kalam informed.

"I am sure many Commonwealth countries participating in today‘s summit have several experiences to share and Commonwealth connects programme can formulate a plan to integrate the core-competence of nations for mutual benefit.

"This power of networking can definitely be used by Commonwealth countries for sharing their core competencies and building a knowledge platform for serving the development aspirations of the individual nations through collective wisdom," he said.

He concluded his delectable speech with several suggestions.

Evolving guidelines for common telecommunication policy to share resources, network, infrastructure, without any barrier and facilitate implementation through a Commonwealth co-ordination centre.

Evolving guidelines for Common Information Security policy in IT.

Modernising education through state of the art skill development programmes among the Commonwealth nations leading to skill certification and acceptance among the countries for global employment opportunities.

Undertaking study of e-governance implementations across the Commonwealth nations and suggest the best practices for the G2G and G2C implementations.

Creating a mechanism which will facilitate pooling of core competence of nations for developing knowledge products and systems for serving the global market in education, healthcare and e- governance.

Identifying gaps in educational standards of IT professionals in the Global business scenario in IT, ITES and BPO services and creating institutional mechanisms for training, accreditation and grading based on performance. Creating a common web portal for sharing information and knowledge among Commonwealth countries.

Creating a Commonwealth Connects Fund and Institute a Commonwealth committee to address the above mentioned suggestions.

The 53 countries of Commonwealth constitute a population of 2 billion i.e. one third of the population of the planet. This network of independent nations in the past has taken up many initiatives for interconnecting their heritage in art, culture, science and technology, history, sports and way of living.

Such a strong base of relationship and the core competence of the countries can be further integrated into a very useful partnership by providing connectivity through the Evolution of a Commonwealth Knowledge Grid.

"This can address many common challenges for development such as developing a knowledge society through quality education, providing affordable quality healthcare to all, sustainable rural development through cluster approach, providing transparent people-friendly-governance and above all evolution of an enlightened society for improving the National Prosperity Index of all the partner countries. The model developed by the Commonwealth Nations will have the potential to be extended to the entire Planet," he said.

Incredibly, he said in the end: "In just a few minutes, my paper will be accessible on my website. If any of you have any suggestions, send them to me and I will reply back within 24 hours."

The first day of the two-day meet was devoted to moving from digital divide to digital opportunities and to successful public-private sector partnership (PPP).

Delegates from Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, and Sri Lanka related various instances where PPP had very successfully helped transform societies through greater use of IT. The information minister of Kenya M Kagwa related the instance of collaboration with the multi-national Vodaphone to create e-banking and money transfers through ‘m-pesa’ which had helped his government to change the situation in the country in just 18 months. He said that attempts had now been made to set up computers in every village in the country and help people access information. He said the gaps between revenue and literacy created digital divides, but an attempt was being made to overcome this.

The delegate from Mozambique referred to shortage of financial resources, but said the entry of private partnership had helped to overcome this.

Sri Lanka‘s science and technology minister Prof. Tissa Vitarana said recent initiatives had helped the country through PPP to take science and technology to the villages with the use of computer technology.

T Chakravarty of Tata Consultancy Services which sponsored the meet said that a collaboration with the company affairs ministry had made it possible to put all information on a website and help any individual set up a company within an hour compared to 80 days until just over three years earlier. He also referred to the successful experiment in Andhra Pradesh where technology had been taken to the villages through Common Service Centres where computers were available for any person to access and get information on any subject.
He said the key lay not in innovation, but in replication. This meant that other states within the country and other countries should learn from the success stories and replicate the experiments in their own countries.

CII director general Lieutenant General S S Mehta said in his concluding remarks that there was need to move from pilot projects to fruition of such experiments, He said IT was the oxygen of the new world of cyberspace, and people should not be wary of breathing it. He wanted nations to draw up their own priorities and use modern technology to realize their goals.


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