The internet is huge. It is bigger than one can imagine. We are fortunate that we have access to the internet. And I feel for those who do not have access to this astounding wealth of information and possible source of wonder, amazement, delight, instruction, and possibly enlightenment.
Take for instance a website such as number27. You can spend so much time getting informed and getting entertained at the same time. Check it out sometime. [Thanks to Sonal’s blog for the link to number27.]
How do we bring down the barriers that prevent everyone from accessing the internet? Cost of access has to come down significantly from the present levels, and incomes have to go up. In other words, the internet has to become more affordable. Cost of access has two components from the point of view of the user. First, the user premises equipment. Currently, that happens to be the PC. While hardware prices are consistently coming down, they are still beyond the reach of a very large number of people. Besides, software is not all that cheap. Add to that the cost of managing a complex device like the PC, and the total cost of ownership is a pretty sum.
The second component of the cost of access to the internet is the connectivity cost. The trend is downward but not fast enough. For India, we need to have a rational broadband policy. Currently that sector is burdened with all sorts of taxes and illogical restrictions. Broadband policy is where the telecom policy used to be in the 1960s. In those bad old days, telephones were considered a luxury and the policy makers in India decided that access to telephones must be severely restricted to those who can afford to pay very high prices. Those nameless bureaucrats did not understand the vital role that information plays in an economy. The current batch of nameless bureaucrats also don’t understand the vital role of information in the functioning of an economy. The same despiriting cycle of ignorance (among the policy makers) leading to an ignorant and ill-informed citizenry continues.
If we could somehow bring down the cost of the access device and the cost of broadband access, we can make the magic of the internet available to a much larger number. The former we can do by moving away from the PC paradigm. For the latter, we can only hope and pray that somehow good sense will triumph over the obstructionist instincts of the Indian policy makers.