Shorenstein APARC/National Informatics Centre
India, over the past decade, has become a test bed for innovations in information and communication technologies (ICT) serving the rural user. Various reasons explain this emergence. The most obvious is the search for a solution to what has long been an intractable problem: that rural India has remained poor while the rest of the country has moved ahead. The hope that ICT can surmount at least some of rural India's social, political, and administrative challenges and create a viable technology for the provision of health, education, and other social services is thus ICT's strongest calling card. An additional expectation is that ICT can be used innovatively to improve access to the large, underserved market that rural India's 700 million people represent, especially considering that India has the resources to build an ICT infrastructure, i.e., its large, skilled, cost-efficient IT workforce.
The object of this report is to explain the problems facing rural use of ICT and to make recommendations to improve usage. Over three months, from September to December 2004, our team visited nine ICT projects. As a generalization, we concluded that all the projects are still experimenting with how best to serve rural users through ICT. None has yet had a widespread socio-economic impact or even developed a catalytic, replicable approach. Nevertheless, there are successes and failures, good and bad practices and local demand to learn from in order to help frame the recommendations.