Last week I got an email from Bishal. I had already received a clue about the mail from Saurav while chatting the day before. Well, the topic was not any new. We had been discussing such topics during college times. The topic is still under discussion and still could not conclude anywhere. It seems we need more thoughts and more brainstorming. Where else can I expect such thoughts, except this forum? Therefore I am posting it here.
In Bishal’s words, no body can disagree on the fact that only some people living in the cities are enjoying the benefits of the IT. However no such services are available in almost all of the rural areas of Nepal. Many people have not even seen telephone sets or computers. Using IT to improve their life is still far-far away!
Bishal wants to build the communication infrastructures for the introduction of information and communication technology in Rolpa, a remote district in western Nepal. The goal is not to bring simply Internet Connectivity in the rural areas but to provide multiple services that can be provided through the use of ICT to rural people. Some of the goals that this project aims to achieve are:
Communication: To increase the communication facilities in the mountainous area by providing the telephone services to the villagers through the Internet Phone (VoIP), to make available and spread the use of email/internet.
Education: With the help of tele-teaching program, the connectivity to telecom can increase the opportunity in the community school and overcome the shortage qualified teacher in the rural area.
E-Governance: the presence of government for such area is almost nill. With internet, they could start feeling being a citizen of the same country of which you and I are.
Job and Business Creation: telephone itself would create job for operators.
Health: the infrastructure would even help to establish telemedicine center in such areas.
Everything is fine but the main problem he got, as anyone would get, is the fund. He even visited INGOs and NGOs but did not get any response. His request was to make this project an EXAMPLE for the country.
Though the mail was written to a number of people, unless they replied in person, I did not find anyone replying to such a serious project.
My initial response is not optimistic either. The issues on this projects are:
Electricity as Fundamentals for IT: without power, there is no use of any switch, electic or electronic, that could probably turn on a bulb and spred the light of happiness around. Building IT project first before building electric grid would be like being prepared to give birth of a premature baby. Using Solar Power could be an excellent idea, however it might not be scalable enough.
VoIP is really a think that can make communication much cheaper in any area. And rural area will be most benefited. However, someone still needs to open Nepal Government’s eyes as it is still trying to reach the summit of poverty elimination without wearing proper shoes.
Once IT is linked to the rural areas, and after having rigorous training, benefits like health, education etc all could become minor. One might put computer at a remote village, one might put internet connection there, people might start getting dependent on computers in E-Governance; everything will look just great! But what if all of a sudden, a small lead at the front of the computer keeps continuing blinking and monitor forgets all colors other than darkness. This will start frustrating people. Maintenance cost will be unaffordable to those villagers. Therefore, sustainability of the project will still be a big issue.
Related to sustainability, ICT should start generating revenue for people. Unless a project is not creating monetary benefits, claiming it as poverty elimination tool will be a complete lie. It is not impossible. Probably opening shelters for tourist and putting local information to attract people can start generating revenue. But these things need to be properly analyzed.
Creating responsibility in villagers is another problem. If you get something for free, you never understand its value. Just like building roads in villages, villagers who spend their labor also create affection to the road as well. Probably raising certain percentage of fund from the community for this kind of project will make them aware of their responsibility and create awareness as well.
The problem is still not solved. A debate is still required to make any conclusion. Whatever the conclusion would be, the final issue will still be the fund. Probably by passing a night without drinking Royal Stag or Tuborg and contributing the money for such a noble cause will help a bit. What do you think?