The Economic Survey presented in Parliament on Monday outlined the progress in the telecom sector, and stated that broadband would be the next frontier for India to conquer. Broadband connectivity can facilitate intra-India commerce and industry, knowledge flows into India, e-governance, greater integration into the world economy through international voice and video-conferencing traffic and services exports such as software and BPO. The national e-governance initiative with 25 projects for citizens services online, including birth & death certificates, land records, information access under the Right to Information Act, ration card applications, electoral rolls is a very welcome step and will go a long way towards better governance. However, without widespread broadband connectivity, such services, as well as the growth & development of trade & industry within India as well as with the rest of the world, will be affected. There are over1,00,000 cyber cafes from where 60% of Indias 39 million users access the Internet. This is their only means of access as the majority cannot afford PCs. While the Ministry of Information Technology & Communications is working to bring down the price of bandwidth, and the cost of such services, the service tax is driving up the cost to consumers. On the contrary, to encourage the use of online services, the Internet and cyber caf industry should be exempt from Service Tax for a period of time. According to the Networked Readiness Index for 2004-2005, India ranks 39 out of 104 countries, behind Malaysia, Tunisia, Slovenia and Thailand. When viewed in relation to IDCs Information Society Index for 2004, which measures the abilities of countries to participate in the Knowledge Economy, where India ranks 51 out of 53 nations measured, it becomes cause for concern.
The government is working to provide online citizen services, health, education and other services in future. To enable this, broadband is indeed the next frontier.
When are we going to see this reflected in the Budget
The writer is CEO & MD, Sify Ltd