Internet inclusion both challenge and opportunity: IEEE conference

23rd September 2016
Internet  inclusion both challenge and opportunity:  IEEE conference
From left: Karen McCabe, Senior Director, Technology Policy and International Affairs, IEEE ( at the podium),Deepak Maheshwari, IIAS Programme Chair & Director, Government Affairs, India and ASEAN, Symantec, JS Deepak, Secretary, DoT Government of India and Richard R Verma, the US Ambassador to India at the IEEE Internet Inclusion: Advancing Solutions India summit in Delhi, September 20 2016

New Delhi,  September 20, 2016:  A day long event  here -- Internet Inclusion: Advancing Solutions India --  hosted by IEEE  found government officials and leaders from development banks, industry, the technical community, NGOs/CSOs, and others,  address the need to continue the trend from vertical development to cross-functional collaborative development, and to bring stakeholders together to discuss synergies and overlaps.
Delivering the keynote address, US Ambassador to India,  Richard Verma, spoke about the common challenges that the United States and India face,  addressing  disruptions brought on by the digital revolution.  He  emphasized  the need for cooperation between the two countries to counter cyber security and cyber terrorism. The other areas that the two countries need to focus on are strengthening critical Internet infrastructure, and undertaking skill development and capacity building programs. Mr.Verma referred to the second Annual Strategic and Commercial Dialog that took place in New Delhi three weeks ago. He said he was honoured to sign a framework for the US–India cyber relationship, alongside India’s cyber security coordinator Dr.Gulshan Rai.
 “Never before has the United States signed such a document with a foreign partner,” noted Verma. The framework outlines priority areas for US-India cyber cooperation including strengthening critical Internet infrastructure, and undertaking skill development and capacity building programs.
JS Deepak, Secretary, Department of Telecommunications, Government of India said India was one of the fastest growing economies in the world and it has a young population. But despite  this it still faced challenges in the Digital Arena. He outlined India’s challenges in 6 areas and highlighted initiatives that the government of India has undertaken to counter those challenges. He spoke about Internet inclusion, the Bharat Net project & NOFN (National Optical Fiber Network).
According to him, the 6 challenges the country has to tackle for Internet inclusion are:
1.       Broadband Connectivity: India ranks around 100 in the world in terms of the number of households that have access to the Internet. Just 300 – 400 million out of the total Indian population of 1.25 billion have access to the internet. The Telecom Secretary said that low broadband penetration is stifling the GDP growth.
2.       Digital Literacy: He quoted a survey done in December 2014,which indicated only 16 percent of all rural households in India are digitally literate. Digital literacy is defined as: at least one member of the household is able to access the computer or mobile apps.
|3.       Digital content in Indian languages: Most digital content is in English, a language understood by just 300 – 400 million people. This is a major entry barrier to Internet usage in India.
4.       Availability of e-services: Citizens have to go to a government office to avail of government to citizen (G2C) services. Filling paper forms, standing in long queues, and dealing with corrupt officials is something that can be done away with by going online. But Municipalities and other government bodies have been slow to digitize processes. However, the government has initiated programs to step up the pace for eServices. 
5.       Quality of Service on mobile networks: Service providers are unable to keep up with the huge demand for voice and data services in India, leading to choking of networks, and hence poor quality of service. The reason for this is spectrum, which is both expensive and scarce. Service providers participate in spectrum auctions that happen every few years – and also buy spectrum from each other.
6.       Cyber security: Hacking and Denial of Service attacks has led to disruption of services, both in government and the private sector. Banks in particular face increasing security breaches. To counter this, the government set up the national coordination cyber centre to ensure that major networks are not only monitored but capacity is built within organizations from the private sector and government.
The telecom secretary updated the audience on what the government of India was doing to counter those challenges through programs launched in the last 18 months: the National Digital Literacy Mission, the next auction of spectrum (October 1, 2016), initiatives to make government to citizen services paperless, presence-less and cashless. He also spoke about the government’s vision to make 95% of all its online services to be made available in all of India’s 22 languages, within the next two years.
A panel of experts including Parag Kar, Vice President, Government Affairs, India and South Asia, Qualcomm,  Lalitesh Katragadda, Founder, Swaja Labs(Ex-Google Map Maker), SarbaniBelur, Professor and Senior Project Research Scientist, IIT Bombay among others provided insights on the current Internet landscape in India as part of India’s digital development agenda.
Speakers highlighted projects and initiatives that are underway or being planned to provide meaningful access to the Internet. The focus of the discussion was the challenge in making broadband networks accessible in rural India and the remotest parts of the country. The limitation of spectrum availability and usage poses a major challenge. The price of spectrum has increased over time.  Spectrum is also fragmented since the auctions happen every few years. So spectrum allotted to service providers is in non-contiguous blocks. So the government has got to manage the allotment of spectrum in a more efficient manner.
They also spoke about advancements in the domain of research in wireless technologies such as TV whitespace on cable spectrum. Many Indian homes have cable and satellite television (even in the villages) and this media could be used for delivering Internet services. The government’s Bharat Net and the National Optical Fiber Network projects, which aim to connect 250,000 gram panchayats (village; village governance), has seen slow progress. So research and academia need to device other innovative and cost-effective technologies.
In a round table moderated by Leslie D’Monte, Technology Editor, HT media (Mint),  experts discussed how the challenges could be addressed, what were the barriers to usage (infrastructure, funding, end user affordability, data gaps, gender, awareness, capacity and skills) – to internet access, adoption and use in India. They reviewed some of the positive aspects of the Indian economy such as the growing Banking and Finance industry, government to citizen services, digital locker, MOOCs, and how text, voice and video communications is helping the disabled in developing nations.
In a session lead by Deepa Prahalad, Board Member, Arogya World,  panellists discussed crowdsourcing – the collection of ideas and thoughts about issues raised in various sessions in this forum – and the way forward.
he Delhi event was an outcome of the April 13  2016 Global Connect Stakeholders: Advancing Solutions event in Washington, DC where over  150 engineers, scientists, development professionals, industry leaders and others from an array of technology and industry domains globally gathered with global policy experts to explore real-world opportunities that exist now to extend affordable internet access in underdeveloped and underserved communities and regions.