Communications and Society Program
Communications and Society Program
Aspen Institute India/ C&S Joint Roundtable on Communications Policy
The Joint Roundtable on Communications Policy is an annual Roundtable co-hosted by Aspen Institute India and the Communications and Society Program of the Aspen Institute USA. The Roundtable is a private roundtable of 25-30 business executives, government leaders, and visionaries from the United States and India. The Roundtable examines the impact of IT, Communications and Technologies on society, individuals and businesses within India, and its affects on the United States and the rest of the world.
eHealth for India: the Issues Ahead
March 5-7, 2010 - Jaipur
March 8, 2010 - New Delhi
The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and Aspen Institute India convened the Fifth Annual Joint Roundtable on Communications Policy in Jaipur, India March 5-7, followed by meetings with high ranking government officials in New Delhi on March 8. The topic was eHealth for India: The Issues Ahead. Roundtable participants discussed innovative ways to expand eHealth to reach "unreachable" segments of Indian society, primarily in the villages and specifically for UN Millennium Development Goal 5, which targets maternal and newborn health. Some of the ideas generated: to develop an integrated skills development program to train and certify eHealth paramedics in remote areas; to create a digital platform integrating eHealth players and services; to provide specific incentives for medical providers and consumers to participate in eHealth programs; and to create new eHealth Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a Knowledge Partner to this Roundtable, will initiate a Task Force on this topic to carry out solutions. Following the Roundtable in Jaipur, the group traveled to New Delhi to present their recommendations to Indian ministers and high level Government officials including: Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs; Dr. Sayeda Hameed, Member of Planning Commission, and Dinesh Trivedi, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare. The Roundtable was made possible by AT&T, senior sponsor, and Accenture, Cisco, Intel, Matrix and VitalSpring Technologies, sponsors.
E-Gov India: Public Private Partnerships to Bring Government Closer to the Indian People
February 13-15, 2009 - Goa
February 16, 2009 - New Delhi
The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and Aspen Institute India jointly convened the Aspen India/ C&S Fourth Annual Joint Roundtable on Communications Policy on the topic of e-governance in Goa, India, February 13-15, 2009. The participants subsequently met with high level Indian government officials in New Delhi on February 16, 2009 to share their findings and recommendations. Making E-Governance Work for India (download report in PDF) touches on ways the Indian Government can provide services and information and include them in the governing process while transcending the country's vast cultural, linguistic and geographic differences. The report suggests public-private partnerships, policy reform, and infrastructural changes as ways to deliver more efficient and effective e-governance across India.
The Government of India’s National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is visionary, ambitious, practical and detailed. It recognizes the importance of public and private agencies to come together to deliver the full potential of a participative democracy visualized in India’s Constitution. Meaningful engagement between citizens and government will also require transparency and innovation at all levels.
The discussion and recommendations below are structured around four ‘organizing principles’, viz. Partnerships, Infrastructure, Applications and Reform.
The Roundtable especially explored the role of public private partnerships in fortifying governance through strategic use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). For long run sustainability, only ‘win-win’ arrangements, where both sides have incentives and mutually accountability, will suffice. Government agencies dealing with private companies should recognize the potential of “carrot and stick” approaches, not just for private players, but also for creating incentives and accountability within their own staffs as well. The Roundtable suggested that e-gov would expand best if the Government focused its PPP strategies on acceleration rather than for initial funding of e-gov infrastructure, if the Government adopted reforms in procurement policies (see below), and if contracts were consistently enforced for effectiveness and timeliness.
Multiple Languages: There is a formidable challenge in delivering e-governance services to people in the scores of languages and dialects spoken throughout India. There should be a national level initiative to create a ‘translation infrastructure’ that can provide multiple language capability to applications and services, irrespective of the language interface used in their creation. Software alone cannot accomplish this, but by using India’s strongest asset, its people, a “wiki” style solution is possible. By employing agreed standards which the NeGP already prioritizes, such a common shareable infrastructure and approach could save much time and money for developers of applications for the E-Gov system.
Energy: ICTs can potentially reduce energy costs and improve the quality of environment. By the use of new computer chips and other energy-efficient measures, now commercially available and built to international standards, equipment can be installed in the approximately 100,000 kiosks or Common Service Centres (CSCs) being set up under NeGP to make them more economical and sustainable in rural areas where power supply is insufficient and unreliable. Additionally, by reducing energy needs, this equipment could make solar energy more viable.
Leveraging current networks: The existing national network of post offices and schools can be leveraged creatively to deliver diverse goods and services in the NeGP by modifying provisions that hinder or prevent public or private agencies from housing these networks.
The utility and credibility of the e-governance programme requires ready availability of government services in CSCs. Focused measures are necessary for faster development of applications of interest to rural populations - such as mobile finance, education, and entertainment - where demand and interest is high. A polling portal, which elicits responses from the public, could help to identify the nature and size of demand.
Reforming government policies and processes
The role of government extends beyond enabling its many processes for e-governance and using the latter’s infrastructure to deliver public services. It should help to create an environment conducive for non-government stakeholders to provide and support the many services of interest to citizens. Government’s procurement norms – targeted on securing the lowest price from suppliers - must be brought in line with world best practices to include quality of service. They should include safeguards against delays and breach of promise for private suppliers.
The government could appoint a Countrywide Information Technology Officer to streamline processes and norms within and across the Department of Administrative Reforms and the Ministries of Communications & IT (MOCIT), and Rural Development. The CITO could spur co-ordination and innovation across government and also monitor quality of service, deadlines, etc.
MOCIT should remove existing barriers and anomalies in policies that have hurt the growth of internet and broadband services that citizens will need to access most services.
- Internet Service Providers (ISP) face controls on services like internet telephony, and these services need to be fully deregulated.
- Similarly, ISPs find it difficult and expensive to access existing infrastructure created by BSNL using public funds. Unbundling of local loop is a critical first step.
- The unspent resources of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) are currently available to telecommunications operators setting up rural infrastructure, but not to other players that are contributing to the same effort. USO benefits should be extended to all engaged in building rural infrastructure and bring it in line with CSC goals.
In sum, the Roundtable appreciates the aspirations and first steps that the Government of India and many of the States have already undertaken for e-governance. By pushing forward with modest reforms in communications policy, procurement and PPP policies, and by combining innovative ideas with the creativity and industry of the Indian people, this laudable effort will be more likely to succeed in the long run.
In February 2008, industry executives from the US, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka met with government officials, researchers and other policy-makers in the third annual Joint Conference on Communications Policy between Aspen India and the Institute’s Communications and Society Program.
At a three-day meeting in Kovalam, India, participants hammered out recommendations for improving the Indian mobile industry infrastructure and spectrum use, roles for government (which included both a strong use of the new mobile media for m-governance as well as light touch regulation), and non-governmental recommendations for a new m-currency which could be used as a way of transferring money, goods and services, particularly in rural areas. Among the participants was Nripendra Misra, chairman of the Indian telecom regulatory agency, TRAI.
Subsequently, the group met in Delhi to present their recommendations to Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwahlia, Deputy Chairman of the Indian Planning Commission (which is chaired by the Prime Minister), Madhavan Nambiar, the Special Secretary of Communications and Information Technology on e-government, and Nikhil Kumar, the Chairman and seven members of the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology. The senior sponsors of this meeting were ATT, Cisco, Credit Suisse and Qualcomm; sponsors were Intel, Google, Motorola, Vodafone-Essar, and Bharti Airtel. View the 2008 report M-Powering India: Mobile Communications for Inclusive Growth by Richard P. Adler and Mahesh Uppal. Download report in PDF.
The second annual Aspen India/ C&S Joint Roundtable on Communications roundtable on “Enhancing India's Knowledge Workforce” held in February in Chennai and Delhi resulted in the roundtable group agreeing to collaborate in a public-private partnership to better equip India’s workforce with knowledge and skills on a globally competitive level. In Delhi, the roundtable participants presented their proposal titled “Minds on Fire” to three key Government officials: Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission; Kapil Sibal, Minister of Science and Technology, and Kamal Nath, Minister of Commerce and Industry. Minister Nath urged the group to create a pilot project based on one of the recommendations to establish Knowledge Centers at Special Economic Zones in India, and has invited a detailed plan. View the 2007 report Minds on Fire: Enhancing India's Knowledge Workforce by Richard P. Adler. Download report in PDF.
Connect and Catalyze succinctly describes many of India's economic challenges and opportunities and includes suggested implementations of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a means to sustained economic development. Topics include:
- Foreign Direct Investment
- telecommunications regulatory reform, and spectrum reform policies for widespread diffusion of ICT innovation
- information literacy in India
- government leadership.
The group, including several high-level ministers and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India, explored the viability of its own conclusions and recommendations for the future of India:
- set a leadership standard for ICT particularly regarding rural telecommunications issues
- move beyond software and focus on hardware and information management
- develop a long term strategy to promote ICT development in rural areas
- demonstrate leadership in using ICT through electronic governance, health, education and rural development among other means.
This report is a product of the First Annual Joint Roundtable on Communications Policy, jointly hosted by Aspen Institute India with the Communications and Society Program of Aspen Institute (U.S.) in February of 2006. Download the 2006 report Connect and Catalyze: Can India Leverage ICT for Inclusive and Sustained Growth? by David Bollier.