India must focus on broadband, e-govt

Government urged to give immediate attention to 3G and WiMax, which analysts say is necessary for e-government services and local economy.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

INDIA--With a new government in place, the country looks poised to return to the high-growth trajectory, but only if the focus is on e-government and technologies such as 3G and WiMax, say analysts.

"The quality of governance and the quality of services delivered by the government are more important today than before," Neel Ratan, executive director at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.

Raju Bhatnagar, Nasscom's vice president of business process outsourcing (BPO) and government relations, all sectors must contribute to economic growth. "And IT can be a true facilitator in this process," Bhatnagar said in a phone interview. Nasscom is India's trade body and chamber of commerce for the country's IT-BPO industry.

According to the organization, the government needs to implement a nation-wide skills development program and leverage IT expertise to enable education and impart employable skills. "IT can facilitate skills building at a national level, making people more employable," Bhatnagar said.

For instance, he said, technologies such as telepresence and videoconferencing can be used to broadcast lectures given by professors across India to overcome the scarcity of good teachers in rural and semi-urban areas. "This will have a multiplier effect on the economy," he added.

According to Diptarup Chakraborti, principal research analyst at Gartner, IT enablement and PC penetration should also the priority. India, unfortunately, lags several other Asian economies in terms of both PC and Internet adoption, Chakraborti said in a phone interview.

"Internet has been around for nearly 15 years in India. Yet, our internet population is only around 60 million in a population of 1.1 billion," he said. Also, India needs to redefine broadband, which the country currently classifies as Internet speeds of 256Kbps, he said.

Broadband, 3G to be facilitators
In addition, there have been inordinate delays in the auction of 3G and broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum, owing to various differences of opinion among ministers including the base price for auctions and number of licenses to be awarded.

Industry analysts urge 3G and broadband to be given immediate attention. "These would provide the basis for other implementations like e-government," Deepak Kumar, IDC's general manager of communications research, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview. With 3G, mobile users will get be able to access the Internet at speeds of 7.2Mbps.

However, Ratan said broadband and 3G are not prerequisites for e-government services. "While it's good to have government services over broadband, the government is already setting up community service centers (CSCs) across the country. These will serve as delivery channels for e-government services in rural areas," he said, adding that the government is setting up 100,000 CSCs across India.

Kumar though noted that 3G, WiMax, Digital Subscriber Line (xDSL), Metro Ethernet and other such rollouts, would provide India's economy with the necessary infrastructure and direct impetus to various knowledge and service sectors. "Even sectors like manufacturing and banking and financial services (BFSI), stand to benefit immensely from these technologies, given the increasingly distributed and multi-location character of such enterprises," he said.

"It would also be worth initiating processes for the formulation of, say, a 4G policy, given that such policies have taken much time to construct in the past," he added. "In fact, government itself can consider adopting new paradigms like unified communication, enterprise mobility, cloud computing, and so on, on a wider scale, to see how these technologies would act as catalysts to the growth of the Indian economy," Kumar said.

E-govt will boost economic growth
By some measures, the new government seems to recognize the importance of IT. While Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee highlighted that reviving the Indian economy will be a top priority, Home Affairs Minister P. Chidambaram said the government has initiated a scheme to provide multipurpose national identity cards (MNIC) to every citizen by 2011.

PwC's Ratan said: "The unique ID (or MNIC) scheme can help the government in targeting the right people for government programs and subsidies." Today there is no one, uniform way of identifying an individual in India.

Also, in May 2006, the government approved the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) comprising of 27 Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) and 10 components. The NeGP seeks to make all government services accessible to the general population through common service delivery outlets, thereby, ensuring efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs.

According to Nasscom, the government needs to develop public-private partnerships to accelerate implementation of approved e-government programs and evolve appropriate new initiatives. It also needs to increase government IT budgets to provide a strong stimulus to the local IT-BPO industry and economy.

The Department of Information Technology (DIT) Web site lists status reports of several MMPs. Chakraborti said: "The impact of e-government schemes will be felt in the next five to seven years. We may not see immediate impact of schemes."

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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