Last-mile Community Networks
Before I venture deep into this, I know I have to post a blog post on the Wikipedia 10 celebrations held in Pune. I would be probably be posting on the same during the week-end as I have to collect some photos and source some content as I was not available at some places as was busy coordinating the whole thing. I am however posting a small pic. of me tackling some Q&A query from somebody at a formal meeting with educationists and policy makers in Maharashtra on the importance of wikis and the community in general. The photograph is courtesy Yashda
The blog is down atm but Ms./Mrs. Sheena David (who the said person is I have no idea) , as a guest blogger has posted on Abhishek’s blog a while back. While his blog seems to be down atm the basic idea she gave was there should be Public Internet places where one can access Internet. Mr. Harley of Hayai Broadband had also mentioned something similar which is there in his country where libraries has a similar opportunity. Here I only know of British Council Library, Pune which provides a similar service in nature or provided it till sometime back. I know/have seen that in action but a year or two back do not know the status as of now. I have to point out that the membership fees are not something that most middle-class Indians can afford let alone somebody from a lower strata of the society. Also all the books are in English so vernacular readers have nothing for them.
Anyways, while she had floated the idea I think she was unaware that there have been few pilots within the country on that. I know of 3 experiments and there may have been many more which I might be unaware of. It’s not my domain but is of some interest to me to see that the digital divide becomes smaller than what it is at the present. With that in mind, here are some of the somewhat ‘successful’ and not succesful pilots I know of so far.
a. Akshaya, Kerala :- Akshaya has had some moderate success with implementing or making digital divide a little severe. The main positive as well as negative for them is they seem to be dependant on the government so if the government changes the project can be shelved or whatever. This is not good when you want to have a utility which can make a difference in the lives of millions of people.
b.Dhan Foundation and N-Logue :- Dhan Foundation and N-Logue had been trying out various pilots in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh . Some of their work was also commented upon in Economic Times about couple of years ago. The Dhan Kiosks have had moderate success while the ones operated by N-Logue met a death knell. A paper presented in ERNET does give the factors therein.
c. Last but not the least is Airjaldi which had been an ISP for few years. They give somewhat subsidized net connectivity . There are issues though as they filter content and what they deem inappropriate is cut at the edge of the network. So Sex is violence is big no-no but if you go into details you will find many sites which may get hammered. I personally have been never in favor of censorship in any form. Their business model works on providing connectivity to people and organizations, getting lot of Westerners to work for them for free for 6 months, at the most taking care at the most of the lodging and boarding. The people from the west like it as they get exposure of working in hostile Environments little bit, It is the Himalayas we are talking about , the politics and as far as Wireless is concerned it’s an open playground for them.
There have been few competing providers which learnt at Airjaldi and made their own shops giving similar or perhaps better service which is a mixed blessing to people. How much they have been able to make the divide is smaller is hard to say though.
One site/institution which does or tries to do a lot in this regard is Telecentre.org
One does also give in passing reference the ‘Hole in the Wall‘ and similar NIIT initiatives but most of them were with the aim to get some idea and analysis how people deal with GUI. It was more for the benefit of the corporate organizations with profit motive rather than anything for the community well-being even though they were showcased like that.