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SMS Wrks

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DQI Bureau
New Update

You can take a horse to the pond but you can't make him drink,

goes a common saying and when the issue at hand is about making the entire

country adopt to new processes and technology, the analogy holds more valid than

ever. If it is essential that India adapts to the 'e' way of governance, it's

imperative that 'thirst' for the new technology and approach be generated

first.

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With paper-based business transactions gradually being replaced

throughout the world by its electronic variants and processes, e-Governance or

citizens' interaction with government using the electronic medium too has been

gaining ground for most governments. The result, as has been shown through many

a pilots and some full scale rollouts is 'good governance'. What this means

is that e-Governance enables the citizen to independently interact with

government agencies without the paraphernalia of middlemen, commission agents

and touts.

Infrastructure, the impediment



While the Government of India initiated an ambitious Rs 12,000 crore

National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) about two years back with the ultimate aim of

making all government services accessible to the common man through a one-stop

shop mechanism, shifting to this convenient transparent system will, however,

require computers, Internet connections, computer literacy, and a change of

mindset.

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Though one of the biggest barriers-the lack of PC penetration

in the country-is expected to be taken care of in days to come with the entry

level computers now being marketed for as little as Rs 10,000 and Internet is

also spreading, the availability of computers and Internet connection in India

is poor, far behind Korea, Malaysia and China (see: The Indian Reality).

With only 3.9 fixedline phones, 2.6 mobile phones, 0.4 Internet

connections and 0.19 broadband connections available per 100 persons, providing

a computer with Internet connection to a sufficient number of citizens to make

e-Governance meaningful would be a formidable task, and it may take years before

the country could actually realize its dream. However, the fact is that India

cannot wait any longer for the infrastructure to come up before realising its

e-Governance dream.

Interestingly, while several initiatives have been taken to

bridge the digital divide in India and policies are underway to make sure every

village has a knowledge centre as well as every state has 2 mbps bandwidth till

the block level through SWAN, an entire generation of technology-the mobile

phone-has not been used to its full potential as the vehicle for delivering

e-Governance services.

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The Mobile Facts



Latest figures issued by the Telcom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)

show that the rate of growth of cell phones has increased dramatically and has

far outstripped fixed line and broadband growth, with the total number of cell

phones overtaking the fixed line phones in the H2 2004. During the month of July

2005, increase in number of cell phones was almost 10 times the increase in

fixed line phones-2.45 mn-as compared a meagre 0.27 mn, new fixedline

connections. Besides, a large number of these fixed lines were wireless local

loop (WLL) connections, clearly indicating a marked preference for wireless

technology for providing last mile connectivity.

These figures only highlight what any keen observer can see for

himself in the streets and markets of urban India-that the cell phones have

been fully embraced by the Indian public. Today cell phones are no longer

luxuries for the rich but a cheap and cost effective communications tool for the

working class.

While someone playing the devil's advocate may point out that

the growth in cell phones has largely been confined to urban areas, it's

important to note that the DoT and the Union Communication Minister Dayanidhi

Maran have already set up a target of 250 mn phones in the country by December

2007 (see: Teledensity Roadmap). Besides, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of

India (TRAI) too has been pushing the cause of increasing cell phones in rural

areas.

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The New Alternative



The rapid growth of cell phones offers immediate and low-cost alternative to

the conventional computer-Internet road to e-Governance.

Use of SMS in e-Governance has just begun. Information on

Railway bookings and flights can be obtained through SMS. Private operators are

bringing out new schemes every day for getting information through SMS on

diverse subjects ranging from share prices and availability of cinema tickets to

cricket scores and popularity ratings.

That SMS is ideal for communicating small amounts of precise

information which can be illustrated through a simple example of a person who

wants to know the status of his stolen car.

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The

Indian Reality

End of year 2003

Parameters

Korea

Malaysia

hina

India

No. of fixed Telephone lines

per 100 persons

51

18.5

19.0

3.9

No. of mobile phones



Per 100 persons

75

43.9

18.3

2.6

No. of internet connections per

100 persons

26

12

2.5

0.4

No. of broadband connections

per 100 persons

25

0.4

1.4

0.019

Charges per 100 kbps per month

(US$)

.25

7.61

3.07

15.63

Instead of making innumerable rounds or calling to the

respective police station only to be told that the investigating officer is gone

out for some inquiry, the person just needs to actuate a program resident on his

cell phone, which will in turn prompt him to key in the registration number of

the car. This menu driven service would then display the frequently asked

questions, of which the person would select the two to inquire about the status

of the case and whether the car has been recovered.

The cell phone will then send a coded SMS to the service

provider who will interact with the police database and send the reply through

SMS itself.

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Looking at the kind of information available on the West Bengal

Police Wide Area Network (WAN) today, this would be just a step further in the

country's e-governance goal. The State police WAN today connects all the

police stations in the state. Criminal cases and missing person information is

recorded electronically at all the police stations and kept in a central

database. Much of this information is in the public domain and is not sensitive

or confidential in nature. Making this available to the public would definitely

be a big step forward for e-Governance. A private service provider can be asked

to develop and service an SMS-based program to provide this information to the

public. Revenue raised through the large number of SMSs generated by the scheme,

will finance the project at no cost to government.

Similar applications can be developed for providing relevant

information on the entire gamut of government activities, starting with:

  • Missing person information

  • Missing vehicle information

  • Law and legal procedures

  • Property rules and regulations

  • Vehicle registration and tax

  • Traffic violation fines

  • Status of land records

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The SMS Advantage



Cell phones using SMS will immediately give e-Governance to the public.

Sufficient infrastructure already exists in urban areas to provide this service.

With the TRAI plan of 250 mn phone lines by 2007, giving a teledensity of one

phone for six persons in rural areas, it should be possible to extend

e-Governance to cover the most rural areas within two years.

SMS is a low cost option. Entry-level cell phones costing

approximately Rs 2,000 are already much cheaper than computers and the

possibility of a Rs 1,000 cell phone is also being discussed. Besides, cell

phones send a coded SMS, which is very short and cheap, and do not clog

communication channels.

Tele-density

Roadmap

Year Ending

Subscriber Base (in mn)

Tele-density

Rural

Urban

Total

Rural

Urban

August 2005

13.63

96.38

110.01

1.8

29.6

December 2005

15.5

109.5

125

2.03

33.6

December 2006

53.5

121.5

175

7.02

37.27

December 2007

110.5

139.5

250

14.5

42.8

Moreover, SMS will complement and extend the reach of broadband.

While it can be used to get answers to some FAQs, detailed interaction can

always follow using conventional computers and Internet. For instance, a person

filing his IT returns will use his cell phone to ascertain details of documents

to be filed. He will then go to a computer, Internet cafe or kiosk to download

and fill in the Saral forms and attach scanned documents. Similarily, if his

landlord is troubling him, he can get answers to FAQs and names of concerned

police officers through SMS and can follow up with an email or phone call.

Besides, SMS will also help create the demand for full

e-Governance in the country. While getting people to adopt a new technology is

always a challenge, for man is a creature of habit and unless compelled by

incentives (or disincentives) avoids change. This reluctance to change has to be

factored in while introducing new technology, especially where the technology is

for the masses.

SMS will accustom the public to using digital devices. Once they

start using SMS, they will want to graduate to the computer-Internet environment

too. This will encourage them to acquire computers and become computer literate

and will motivate them to change their work habits and working culture to

progress to full-fledged e-Governance.

What this means is that the government will no longer have to

persuade the public to use e-Governance facilities. Public demand for

e-Governance will precede and even finance the growth of these expensive

facilities, much in the manner of cell phones, which have grown because the

common man wanted them.

Peoples' Choice



The astounding success of reality shows on TV and the number of SMS sent

from across the India to these contests and game shows clearly indicate people's

verdict-that they have chosen the cell phone as their gadget of choice for

entering the digital world. The government must respect this choice and set up a

mechanism for motivating and coordinating all efforts in the government and

private sectors for making programs for enriching e-Government content on cell

phones.

The remarkable growth of TV and cell phones has been largely

public demand driven and has depended a lot on private enterprise. e-Governance

will also be a resounding success if it is demand driven and Government

leverages the tremendous enthusiasm and innovativeness of private enterprise to

develop cell phone-based programs to spread e-Governance.

Ajay Prasad The author is the former Director General of

Police, West Bengal

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