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Community Networks - I (reply to sanjeevs mail)

Ladies & Gentlemen
(sounds too formal in an e-mail after years of typing out informal

Sanjeev it was encouraging enough for starters, that somebody is
willing  to be persuaded. At the outset I need to clarify the word
"Network" in  "Community Networks" - was not meant to be high speed
communications  networks but linking grassroots workers in a cheap and
cost effective to  speed up exchange of ideas and to co-ordinate

I have divided the idea into 2 mails, the first explains the concept,
the motivation and the wherewithalls. The second mail discusses how we
deploy a test bed to determine the efficacy of the idea.

>In this case, I see this idea as highly impractical. It is a costly
>idea.  It is trying to provide a public good, ie., there is no
>for private citizens to build this network: e.g., providing computers
>and T3 lines to villages in India. etc. etc.

- What kind of a Virtual Community do I have in mind    There are 100s
of Developmental Agencies/NGOs/Social-Workers     working in far flung
areas of the country. They work with minimal    resources at their
disposal and have an uphill task on their hands.    These are the people
who working at grassroots. These are the     people who have their ears
to the ground and know whats like to    live in the reality thats India.
I have lived in cities and metros    tobe specific all my life and have
no clue what life is like in     90% of India. We are talking of
formulating a policy for INDIA.     What good is a policy which looks
great on paper and on web-sites    frequented by urban academics and
intellectuals if it
    - is not physically accessible to the millions that make up
     - cannot be communicated in lay man's terms in a language best
       understood by them.
     - finally if the policy doesnt reflect the reality thats India
       its no good a policy. Its as wishful and impractical as a
       "Network of T1 Lines" :) . (no offense meant).
   The point that I am trying to make is that - the policy gains in
   credibility, value and its content gets enriched not by endorsement
   by Milton Friedman but if it receives the active feedback and
   inputs of these millions of people who it intends to serve. Its
   content gets enriched by their inputs and it reflects the ground
   level reality.

   After all whats the Policy for - its to be translated into action
   someday, right. If its to be translated into action who is going to
   do that - Government/Private Business/Political Parties. How are
   they going to be convinced that this is the right agenda to be
   taken up - They will be convinced of its worth IF AND ONLY IF IT

   Whats the best way to tap the pulse of the grassroots - the pulse
   of the grassroots are these 1000s of development workers. It is
   they who shall make up this virtual community to begin with.

What are the Information Needs of this Community ?
    What do these agents of development need apart from material
    support. We talk of illiteracy, poor health, mal-nutrition. These
   agents need educational material, information booklets and
   pamphlets. they may need to undergo training to guide on battling
   some epidemic or calamity. They may need training to teach use
   of Appropriate Technology like fuel from the land, Bio-gas etc.
   most of which means long periods of waiting for
   information/resources to arrive. Physical travelling which is
   both costly and time consuming. Most IMPORTANT of all - long
   periods of waiting before response to a INITIATIVE, TECHNOLOGY is
   obtained. Which lowers the overall response time in - INITIATIVE
   - ACTION - FEEDBACK - REFINED-INITIATIVE. This could be crucial
   in the case of Epidemics and Natural Calamities. It could be time
   saving and could improve efficieny in the case of any co-ordinated
   grassroots movement.

What are the Communication Needs ?
    - 1 to 1 correspondence between individuals at a personal level,
      to facilitate exchange of ideas and to co-ordinate joint efforts
      and initiatives.

    - 1 to many transmittal of information/software at a community

    - Many to 1 connecitvity to a central repository of data/sofwtare/
      developmental resources.

What Resources are required to fulfill these needs
   - Computers
   - Telephone Connections
   - Software to facilitate the communication
   - Software to present information

  - It has started, agenices like AID have donated computers for use
    in schools in backward areas. INFOSYS TECHNOLOGIES where I work
    in Bangalore has started a trust with a special focus on
    disseminating the fruits of Information Technology to rural areas.
    They have donated old computers.
  - Here in the USA computers abound and are cheap. Lots of times
    old used computers with reasonable configuration are just junked
    If we can work out something with the government to facilitate
    hassle free transport of used computers from the USA to India we
    are in business. I believe AID ran into trouble transporting
    old clothes with the Customs Deptt. There are visionary
    politicians like Naidu, we need to tap their offices.

  - Yes India is a far cry as far as penetration of telephones
     goes. There is a silver lining though.
  - The ISP Policy announced that DOT would treat Long Distance calls
    to an ISP as local phone calls for billing purposes.
  - INMARSAT has announced that it will be deploying Satellite
    Telephones in remore areas where conventional telephones have not
    penetrated and make the services available at the same cost as a
    conventional phone.
  - Private basic service providers are starting work. Yes its slow
    but it will happen, if not this year, I am sure at least by 2000
    private service operators would have reached out to large parts
    of the country.

ERNET the country's first network did some pioneering work in setting up

an E-Mailing system based only on UUCP. "UUCP" well rather primitive,
yes, but well suited for a country that lives on low-bandwidth,
unreliable phone lines, high costs of communication. A similar low cost
solution can be built around Linux which performs well on computers with

limited resources. That could be the absolute skeleton to begin with.

How do we go about deploying such a network, I discuss in my next mail.


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