India earmarks $2.7bn for IT development

The Indian government is to spend $2.7bn over the next four years to bridge the country's digital divide.

The Indian government is to spend $2.7bn over the next four years to bridge the country's digital divide.

"You do not want to get into a situation where information and communications technology, and its progress create social chasms and economic chasms between the haves and have-nots," said Rajeeva Ratna Shah, secretary for industrial policy and promotion in the federal government.

As part of its investment in technology and infrastructure,  the government will introduce a voice-based information technology device that can be used by villagers regardless of the language they speak.

"The device should be able to take commands orally," Shah said.  "There must be total interactivity and literacy should not act as a barrier. Language should also not be a barrier.'' Shah did not, however, disclose the technical specifications of the device.

Meanwhile, a pilot project on broadband connectivity for rural areas is already under way in Uttar Pradesh, according to Shah. In another trial project near Delhi, postal employees are downloading e-mail on wireless handheld devices and delivering them to villagers, who then use the devices to reply to the e-mail.

This is not the first time engineers in India have attempted to design a low-cost computer device for rural use. However, the Simputer, a Linux-based handheld mobile computer, with a target price tag of about $200, failed to take off because of insufficient interest in its target market.

The government also plans to introduce a government-to-business portal, which will allow foreign investors to interact directly with the government, and "enable us to cut corruption", Shah said.

A number of non-government organisations, multilateral aid agencies, educational institutions and state governments have also launched projects for bridging the digital divide in India, where more than 70% of the population live in impoverished rural areas where literacy levels are low.

HP Labs India, which was set up in Bangalore by Hewlett-Packard, is developing products appropriate for India's rural markets, and Intel has invested in research at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai to explore the viability of wireless internet connectivity in rural areas.

John Ribeiro writes for IDG News Service

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