TBI BLOGS: How Affordable Internet Access Is Converting Village Folk into Net-Savvy Entrepreneurs

With the motto 'Inform, Communicate & Empower!', New Delhi-based organisation Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) finds sustainable ICT solutions for marginalised communities to overcome information poverty and enable better access to benefits and rights in rural India.

Young boys and girls in villages across India are taking to digital literacy and using their newly acquired skills and knowledge of the Internet to become youth entrepreneurs. Here’s the story of one such young man from a Jharkhand village.

Until 2011, Dabri village on the outskirts of Birni, one of the 13 community development blocks of Giridih district in Jharkhand state, suffered from intermittent and often non-functional Internet connectivity. It was served by only one telecom provider, which was slow to respond to issues that arose in the network. To overcome this problem, DEF’s Wireless for Communities (W4C) programme stepped in to take backhaul connectivity directly from the telecom’s exchange at Birni.

A wireless base tower was likewise set up on the roof of Dabri’s Community Information Resource Centre (CIRC).

A wireless base tower is set up on the roof of the tallest building to provide seamless Internet connectivity. Photo: Mubeen Siddiqui

A wireless base tower is set up on the roof of the CIRC.

Photo: Mubeen Siddiqui

CIRCs provide DEF the basic backbone needed for rolling out all kinds of digital interventions for development. They are set up in rural and semi-urban areas of backward districts with computers, printers, scanners and all basic digital equipment. The basic goal of CIRCs is to spread digital literacy and empower hitherto information-dark and marginalised communities to access all possible benefits of digital inclusion and access to the global information super highway.

These days, at least 10 users, including several local businesses within a radius of five kms, enjoy wireless Internet access at the same time in Dabri.

The area around the CIRC has become a Wi-Fi access hub for villagers. Photo: Mubeen Siddiqui

The area around the CIRC has become a Wi-Fi access hub for villagers. Photo: Mubeen Siddiqui

The Birni Block Development Office, the Block Education Office and the Block Resource Centre all use the same wireless connectivity, which officials say is much more reliable than the one provided by the telecom company.

The entire network is being managed by local community members who have been trained under the Training of Trainers programme. These community members also help run the digital literacy programmes for youth and schoolchildren.

One of the beneficiaries from this region is Rajendra Verma. A young man, Verma knew that becoming a cooking gas retail sales agent of a major Indian oil firm like Hindustan Petroleum (HP) could be a very profitable business in a semi-urban area like Birni. But for him to be granted an agent’s permit, he needed Internet connectivity, a pre-requisite by oil companies, to conduct many of their transactions online. Birni’s connectivity, which at the time was provided by a state-owned, as well as several private, ISPs, was either too slow or too costly for Verma.

Rajendra needed to have at least a 512 kpbs connection speed, and the W4C programme provided him with at least double that speed in 2013, at a highly affordable price.

Rajendra Verma runs a cooking gas distribution agency in Birni. Photo: Vimages

Rajendra Verma runs a cooking gas distribution agency in Birni.

Photo: Vimages

Today, his gas distributorship business is a roaring success.

“Without this wireless connectivity I could not have carried on my business. And I get smooth and stable connectivity,” he says.

Dabri village, which lies 50 kilometres from the district headquarters in Giridih and some 200 kilometres from the state headquarters in Ranchi, demonstrates how a fairly remote area can benefit from broadband connectivity using the W4C wireless network.

The W4C programme has allowed many other people like him across the country to become entrepreneurs. While somebody is selling cooking gas, somebody else is selling local handicrafts through Facebook, and yet another is managing bookings for a small bed-and-breakfast establishment.

Feature image credit: greymeter.com

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