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How internet can integrate nations into a united world

The internet holds the ability to integrate nations into a united world while it is also capable of destroying our present way of life. Internet, therefore, needs to be understood, accepted, adapted and adopted.
Nations who will miss out in this endeavour will either perish or be marginalised. Its citizens will find their national government inconsequential as they integrate themselves with the global community. The need for understanding the internet comprehensively being evident, it is crucial to see how governments can do so. The following three issues need to be tackled to integrate the internet in a developmental agenda.
How does adoption and use of internet impact our development agenda and strategy?
Internet is essentially connectivity, which enables direct participative decision making. If this connectivity is extensive then the formulation of such programs, their delivery and monitoring become direct, faster, and accurate.
There are a large number of areas where connectivity can pay immediate dividends. Consider the fishing industry in India. A large number of fishermen catch fish everyday and bring them to the market without knowing what price to sell their fish at and whether they will sell all their fish or not. With connectivity, the fishermen can keep the fishes in their nets in the water till they ascertain the exact demand in the market. The same is true of almost all commodity markets be it food grains or vegetables. Only as much has to be brought to the market as is the demand, which can be ascertained through this connectivity.
These examples are simplistic, but they demonstrate the efficacy of the internet and good connectivity at the ground level. The bigger issue is understanding its potential and applying it diversely and innovatively, for example, using internet platforms to increase public responsiveness to policy initiatives.
In what ways can the internet improve the governance of development schemes?
A substantial chunk of all development allocations are earmarked for monitoring and evaluation. If the beneficiaries are able to give their feedback to the government directly, it will not only save resources but will also eliminate any dressing up of the success or otherwise of the program, thus making the feedback objective and accurate.
If we exclude the defence sector, the largest consumers of our national resources are sectors like education, rural development and health. If we analyse the expenditure pattern of these programs, we will find that the resources are spent in developing infrastructure; procuring equipment and consumables; setting up elaborate machinery to implement and supervise the programs, thus implying enlarging bureaucracy.
Underlying this strategy is the belief that to enable access to a program the government must create physical space and convenience for people to come to that place and have access to those facilities whether its education or health. It is this fundamental premise which can be changed with the growth of the internet and connectivity and thus revolutionise the role of the government.
Imagine a situation where we don’t need a physical classroom or teachers to teach. If every home is connected and if we have appropriate content developed and ready for dissemination and use, boys and girls don’t need to go to physical schools at all. Every home then becomes a school. It will also mean a saving of thousands of crores of rupees which can be diverted to more pressing requirements.
How does the internet mitigate or eliminate leakages and corruption in the implementation of developmental schemes?
The present philosophy and construction of our development initiatives as explained earlier involve creating avoidable and often sub-standard infrastructure or acquiring huge quantities of equipment and consumables while also creating elaborate set ups for monitoring and supervision. Each one of them is a potential and proven source of leakages and corruption. All construction activities as well procurements are invariably sub-optimally efficient and leave enough scope for corruption.
Adoption of internet in running of these programs will mean that the elaborate superstructure to implement and monitor these programs will be drastically dismantled. The issues of leakages and corruption then will become marginal if not totally non- existent.
Curbing freedom on the internet not a solution
In terms of policy response to this challenge, there is an immediate need to study the three dominant trends present today vis-à-vis the state’s response to the internet. One trend is that of strong tendency to control the internet. Countries of the Middle East and of course China represent this trend. The other trend is that of complete laissez-faire like Tonga. Here the lack of control is possibly on account of weak or even absence of any effective governance. The third trend is typified by USA, which while ostensibly supportive of growth of internet, also imposes restrictions that hurt American interests, commercial or political.
However, it should always be remembered that the internet community is fiercely protective of their freedom and is actually quite capable of thwarting any attempts to control them. Any policy initiative will need to keep this key understanding perpetually in perspective. Notwithstanding certain grey areas, the fact remains that increasing our presence in the internet is essential, because this will be our only gateway to harness and eventually influence all content and information worldwide.
Lastly, creating content to suit our objectives can be worked out in the interim – on an immediate appraisal, education, public health and rural and urban development appear to be areas that seem to hold great potential.
Contributory nature of the internet trumps all
From any perspective, the internet needs to be accepted, encouraged and proactively engaged with. But the more significant issue is how we generate appropriate content on the internet to suit our objectives. One answer is by owning domains on the internet. Once we own domains, we have control over their content, without seeming to have this control. We can then develop, tailor, modify, and enlarge this content to suit our purposes.
Google and Facebook are some of the most powerful entities in the modern world because they are seamless, inclusive, contributory and free flowing. They capitalize on the huge information and talent that is dispersed across the globe. They attract the best contribution on any issue. Their power and reach is irreversible. They are arguably more powerful than many state institutions. Those who control entities such as these are the futures rulers of the world. Only those states will remain relevant who cooperate and collaborate with such entities or more importantly, help create and control such entities.

Uday Kumar Varma

Uday Kumar Varma, till recently Secretary to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Government of India, has had extensive experience at the highest levels of administration in India and a proven track record in terms of efficiency, competence and delivery. He is credited with having successfully headed the digitisation of analogue cable systems in India, which is unanimously considered to have taken the Indian broadcasting sector to the next level. A postgraduate from Harvard University, Mr Varma has also authored two books and numerous articles on diverse subjects.
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