Much has been talked about the rural telephony and the need for mobile services. Though there are caveats to the same.
First define a rural area. On an arbitrary basis, it is an area of less than 5000 population. The income levels are much less defined. Similary, its hard to believe the existing government definition of “Below Poverty Line” ( so called BPL ) families. Again, they are defined as those who are earning less than $1 per day. I would appreciate if anyone corrects me on this please. I couldn’t find any reference online.
It’s hard to believe the statistics. In that case, what is the measure of rural consumption? It is the foodgrains. Over the past 10+ years, as the neo liberalistic policies have taken shape, we have seen a sharp decline in the consumption of foodgrains. So much so, malnutrition has become an epidemic. On the wayside and not related to telecom. Do you know that Iron Deficiency Anaemia is one of the commonest clinical conditions seen in India? A clear reflection of lopsided dietary patterns.
In this scenario, the falling consumption of foodgrains means that rural folk are earning less.The policies that were supposed to help them ( infact every policy- damned policy is designed to help them ) haven’t worked. And so does the capitalistic model which states that income would trickle down to the downtrodden. Well, so has the leftist policies ( the bloody corpse worshippers ) that believes in redistribution of wealth, has worked in their bastions. Infact, unreported in the mainstream media, West Bengal has very poor health care indicators, much less than the national average.
So, assuming the poor people would spend their money on food, where is the test case for rural mobile telephony? Nope, it isnt there. Firstly because the mobile handsets need to affordable. Secondly, the high recurring costs. Despite the claims that tariffs are among the lowest in the world. Pooh pooh.
I believe that Broadband networks- through fixed line telephony would make perfect sense. First, in the field of education and get them in the mainstream. Secondly, most of the outsourcing and the data entry jobs can be moved in the interior of the country. Of course, this is exmplotation of the labour- still they would be much better off than depending on the traditional methods which hasn’t yeilded any results.
TRAI is subsiding the costs of setting up mobile networks, when instead it should force BSNL to open up it’s last mile and allow other private players to offer their telephony sevices. Of course, some babu sitting up isn’t happy to hear this.
Only the fixed line telephony would be able to shrink costs and offer a long term viable solution to digital divide. Mobile telephony would just eat up spectrum and nothing else. Of course, on the flip side, there is a perfect case for the likes of BSNL who have managed to get subscribers from these very areas. Would it mean that it would have to share the network? Or is it a reflection of underserved area with a huge pent up demand? Time would tell.