Chapter 7: Sustainable Internet Access for the Rural Poor? Elements of an Emerging Indian Model
INTRODUCTION Backed by subsidies of various kinds and of differing amounts, demonstration projects supplying the Internet to rural areas in developing countries are not difficult to find.1 Nor is it difficult to show that the participants in such projects often derive substantial benefits from the technology thus provided.2 The problem, however, is that if these small-scale, demonstration projects are to be replicated on a much larger scale and hence make more than just a minor contribution to overcoming the digital divide between rich and poor countries, they will need ultimately (if not immediately) to be able to survive on a commercial basis. And, indeed, it is precisely here that we encounter perhaps the major obstacle to the widespread diffusion of the Internet in countries where most of those described as being poor reside predominantly in rural rather than urban areas. In brief, the problem is that: Most of the populations of developing countries live in rural and often isolated areas. Access to information and telecommunications is essential for development of such areas, but is still inadequate or non-existent in many developing countries ... People in rural areas are generally poor and few people can afford telecommunication services. This is a vicious circle - few potential customers means high price (if cost-based), which further reduces the number of potential customers and so on (Ehrenberg, 1998). In the Indian case, for example, one estimate suggests that ‘a telephone operator today spends around Rs. 30,000 per line to provide telecom services to a...
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