Telecommunication: The Future of ICT4D?

In the article we read this week for class, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India”, author Reuben Abraham discussed the impact of mobile phone technologies on developing rural populations in economic terms.  While the distribution of mobile phone technologies in the Indian fishing industry did not yield spectacular results, the fact remains that mobile technologies allow for the improved dissemination of information in developing economies, and, as stated in the article “information is power”.  One area where this aphorism rings especially true is in the new e-Policies of Sri Lanka, instituted in the early 2000’s- before the insertion of telecenters throughout the small island country, rural populations had very little access to information of any kind.

Now, there is technology information in place that allows anyone in possession of a mobile telephone or landline access to information from 77 government organizations in any of the country’s three main languages, Sinhala, Tamil, or English, simply by dialing 1919.  This online “Government Information Center” is part of the e-Sri Lanka project, which is one of the first World Bank projects designed to bring ICT to “every village, citizen, and business, and transform the way the government thinks and works”.  While there have been drastic increases in mobile phone use in the country since the implementation of this program in 2004, the government’s investment in “nensalas” or tele/knowledge centers has resulted in the most beneficial impact for the rural poor.  Access to these telecenters has allowed for farmers, students, and small business owners in rural areas the ability to gain information for themselves, even without a mobile phone or landline.

The nensala (nen meaning knowledge, sala meaning shop), provides easy access to computer technology, the internet, and IT skills training, as well as basic telecommunications- these nensalas have greatly improved literacy rates, computer knowledge skills, and economic flow for Sri Lanka’s rural population through an investment in information access.  The nensalas provide local radio broadcasts of market prices and crop/agricultural info to farmers, e-health and telemedicine facilities to rural patients, audio books for the visually impaired, and visual hearing aids for the hearing impaired, all through access to telecommunications and the online government services.

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