Advancement in ICT Services
In the early 2000s, the World Bank set out to define Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). It said that ICT is a broader term for Information Technology (IT), which refers to all communication technologies, including the internet, wireless networks, cell phones, computers, software, middleware, video-conferencing, social networking, and other media applications and services enabling users to access, retrieve, store, transmit, and manipulate information in a digital form. The umbrella term also included the conventional radio, television and satellite systems. While more affluent and advanced nations have plodded up the technology evolution curve, the Indian consumer has had the opportunity to leapfrog several times. During the decade of the 90s, despite the IT boom the digital divide between urban and rural India was a yawning gap that few saw possible to bridge. However, the first decade of the 21 st century saw this divide narrow considerably when it came to voice telephony. Thanks to the mobile revolution, there were more airwaves in the sky than copper in the ground and village after village, some of which had never seen a conventional telephone, tasted connectivity through mobile telephony. In 2010 the TRAI released recommendations to improve broadband penetration in the country and announced the connecting of 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats through a National Fibre Optic Network for the same. In this last decade, much of what was envisaged as the absorptive capacity that would be built upon this broadband infrastructure has been rapidly developed around mobile broad band that was and is already available.
As we start the next decade of this millennium, the leapfrogging continues to empower the rural woman and particularly the rural woman entrepreneur. Newer and smarter technologies have brought together the functionality of the entire ICT spectrum in a single device and this converged availability of voice, video and web hold great promise for these rural women. With cheaper feature phones and ever aggressive pricing of service plans affordability and accessibility are no longer barriers — not even in rural India. A woman who would wait hours at the village post office to talk to a migrant labourer husband or wait days for a money order for cash remittance now uses her smart phone for video calls with relatives and enjoys cash transfers made through the myriad digital channels available. With at least one smart phone in every family WhatsApp is being increasingly used for market/customer access, Facebook for marketing, YouTube for upgrading skills and Google Pay and Paytm for payments. The current pandemic has added to this bouquet of digital services with Zoom Calls to simultaneously bring together group member spread across multiple villages and districts.
As the now omnipresent “mobile” has accorded the rural woman both an identity and the confidence to uphold it, service organizations are tailoring their digital services to serve her specific purposes. From Gram Marg’s campaigning for right to ubiquitous connectivity and supporting e-commerce — to Digital Green’s creation of specific video based capacity building content — to Gram Vaani’s Mobile Vaani for rural outreach through IVR based systems — several organizations are ensuring that the social, financial and economic inclusion of the rural women come as add-ons now that the digital inclusion that predicates them is being steadily achieved across the country.
As the decade unfolds we watch with anticipation for advancements in several spheres related to the rural woman entrepreneur and the technological leaps that would usher them in.