Key Issues
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"Key Internet Policy Issues" is a series of contributions from people living in countries new or relatively new to the Internet about what they consider to be key policy issues related to the deployment and use of the Internet in their country. Each text is published under the complete responsibility and with the permission of its author. These contributions were solicited by Alan McCluskey, guest editor, in preparation for a special issue of the Internet Society's magazine "OnTheInternet" entitled "Strategies for development: from thought to action" to be published in November 1997. For more information and comments on the preparation of this special edition see "Addressing Key Policy Issues".

Building a true Indian Internet

Even though India is one of the top technically developed countries, 80% of Indians have no access to proper information and good communications. As the world's 2nd most populated country with 70 % in villages, even after 50 years of independence, people are still living in poverty, without proper education, health, food and shelter. The previous slogan of Indian politicians, bureaucrats and individuals was "remove poverty". Now it is "remove corruption". I feel this is directly related to the lack of information and communication and these are being hampered by the lack of infrastructure, government policies, lack of awareness about information technology, high costs etc. Indian policy makers have no proper vision to make their country one of the top developed countries.

Current Indian Telecom policy was introduced in 1994, but it has not been implemented according to schedule. The Department of Telecommunications (DOT), which looks after basic telecom services and will operate the domestic back-bone, is preparing to offer its own Internet services in major cities and towns all over India. According to a top DOT official, Internet policies will be fixed once their own Internet service becomes operational. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), which looks after international leased line services also has a monopoly on wireless links for international hook ups.

India is connected to the Internet by only 6Mbps through four international gateways. While there is no limit to the number of independent ISPs and there is no licence fee to become an ISP, ISPs are obliged to go through VSNL's international gateways for global connectivity. Someone who wants to offer Internet services must either have a leased line to an international gateway or depend on a local DOT exchange leased line service. The latter costs US$ 42,000 for 64 Kbps link and a connection takes at least 6 months to get. The time it takes to get telephone lines to offer dial-up services is completely uncertain - an individual user has to wait at least one year.

What is required is to build an "Indian Internet" for the Indian people. It is a question of language, culture and creating Indian and local content. To survive, an individual must first look for local information rather than information from distant places. Just now people are becoming aware of the Internet, but as long as the government don't consider this sector as strategically important, it will take one more decade to reach world standards. What is required is a change of thinking on the part of the Indian government and bureaucrats who should have an common, open policy in providing Internet services. There should be a National Information Infrastructure Board with a mission to build the Indian Internet. Forces like NGOs, the commercial sector and the media could play a major role. But for the moment little is being done.

K.S. Raju, Internet Communications India Ltd., India.


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Created: September 5th, 1997 - Last up-dated: September 5th, 1997