192. Right to Telecom is a game changer
There is been more criticism than support to the ‘yet to be announced’ scheme for Below the Poverty Line families in India of offering them a handphone. Criticism ranges from and is not limited to –
a) Absence of Power to charge phones
b) Are phones more important than food, clothing and shelter
c) Will there be enough network in places where the poor live
d) Is this a new scam in the making
e) Why is tax payer money being used to offer a freebie
f) And also that this was the idea of the opposition that the ruling party has copied
There must be more, but my timeline did not show the others. Having been a student of the Indian Telecom sector having worked for three years on a telecom service provider brand – launching services, managing crises and tracking the industry I can confidently say that this is a gamechanger in four ways:
a) The poor will feel empowered to access essential information that empowers them to do better
b) Telcos get a new lease of life after all the mess they have been in thanks to 2G
c) BSNL is likely to profit from this in a big way since the scheme has the blessings of the Telecom Ministry and
d) UPA in general and the Congress in particular will be able to fight anti-incumbency a lot better if they implement this scheme right
As strong believer in empowerment of the Bottom Of the Pyramid groups I think this is an idea whose time has come. With regard to criticism, it is expected from the citizens, the way the government has led most urban, communicative Indians to the brink of being non-believers and cynics.
One tweet hits the nail on the head – Urban elite are clever, they wish to deny the poor, equalizing benefits like broadband, mobiles & tablets until they get basic necessities.
Charging and Network connectivity should be least of anyone’s concerns, because people commenting on that either have not used BSNL connectivity directly or while roaming in the hinterland and are unaware of affordable battery chargers.
Besides all BPL families do not live in rural areas. There are BPL families in urban centers too. We all hire women to cook and clean. Imagine her son or daughter can now use that phone to call toll free call centers that will mushroom that provide information on education, jobs and other opportunities.
This hits three birds in one stone – Universal Service Obligation, Communication with masses* and Empowerment#
Explained below – (from a newspaper report and from a blog)
*The move will ensure contact with the beneficiaries of welfare programmes worth thousands of crores, there is also a view the scheme will provide an opportunity for the government to open a direct line of communication with a sizable population that plays an active role in polls.
#The Mobile phone has come to mean both “access” and “identity”. With experiments on payments it has also come to mean the power to “transact” by the unbanked. The missed call campaign of the Anna movement and mobilization using mobile phones by political movements are examples of how the Mobile phone can become a potent political instrument.
I hope right to Toilets is next.
I want to end with what U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his April 7, 1932 radio address, The Forgotten Man – “These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power…that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”