Shifting the focus to rural population

Going rural: A merchant goats makes a call to a prospective buyer in Munggi market in Munggi village, Semanu district, Gunung Kidul regency, Yogyakarta. In the future when telecommunication infrastructure is in place, it will not be improbable for villagers to make transactions via cellular phone or laptop. JP/Slamet Susanto

Going rural: A merchant goats makes a call to a prospective buyer in Munggi market in Munggi village, Semanu district, Gunung Kidul regency, Yogyakarta. In the future when telecommunication infrastructure is in place, it will not be improbable for villagers to make transactions via cellular phone or laptop. JP/Slamet Susanto

by Zatni Arbi

World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is celebrated in many countries annually. WTISD aims to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide. This year’s WTISD is themed “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”. The Jakarta Post is running a special edition on WTISD to mark the day.

Each time we see an urban elementary schoolboy accessing facebook on his smartphone, we are amazed. How can a child as young as that navigate the maze of menus so easily? How does he understand the complex myriads of options? And, not only that, we even have a lot of child prodigies who can develop games for cell phones.

Now, envision the awe that a group of rural people in an isolated location in Africa would feel when they watch a report from Japan, Korea and China?

Or the life of people in Stockholm, Sweden, during summertime?

Would you believe it? According to a study by Opera—the Norway-based maker of a mini browser for handsets, the rural people in Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana are watching news sources such as CNN and BBC. With the Internet reaching their local community centers, this is no longer a dream.

Granted, like any other mass technologies, we also have the negative sides of telecommunications and the Internet. They are unavoidable. However, think of the positive impact they have on people’s lives today. When Chionesu, who lives in Kalugus, Zimbabwe, needs money urgently, for example, he can SMS his sister Maiba in Harare.

In the capital city, Maiba can use m-banking to transfer the amount that he needs, and he will receive it in less than a minute.

And think about personal security. All over the world child trafficking is on the rise. The traffickers usually prey on children in rural areas. With a cheap handset in their pockets, young girls and boys can be better protected.

The finding of a very recent study by TNS has noted a tremendous growth in mobile banking all over the place — Latin America, Africa and China.

In Brazil, Kenya and China, the pick-up rate is more than 100 percent. We can only imagine the impact of this new mode of financial service for people in rural areas, including the range of new opportunities it can open. They can enjoy the financial services that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

This year’s World Telecommunication and Internet Day has adopted the theme “Better Life in Rural Communities with ICTs”. Note that “Internet” has been included in the Society’s name.

It may be taken to mean a recognition that telecommunications and Internet are actually merging. The real-world trend is clear. All over the world the simple handsets, usually used to make voice calls and send text messages, are fast being replaced by Internet-capable handsets and smartphones.

It is therefore not surprising that Nokia has for many years predicted that billions of new users will be accessing the Internet for the first time, and they will be doing it using a mobile device.

PCs and notebooks will no longer be the sole alternative to learn to use the Internet for the uninitiated. The company believes that the Internet is the key driving force for the mobile phone industry, and it is quite evident now.

Mobile devices, in turn, are coming in even more variety of shapes, sizes and capabilities. Their prices are going down steadily, too.

What about Indonesia? It seems that progress is being made although not as much and as fast as we would like to see.

The government has initiated a number of programs in the past to bring telecommunications and the Internet closer to rural areas. None have been a definite success so far, although the infrastructure is getting better and broadband penetration is increasing.

Unfortunately, they have not really touched the rural people who live in the far-flung locations. Most of the infrastructure still ends at the kelurahan, or sub-village, level.

Indonesia is one of 189 countries which have signed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). For the country, the effort is focused on poverty reduction.

It would be a shame if the country did not achieve anything significant by the end of the MDG period, which will be 2015.

So, it is lucky that we have seen more activities by the operators and service providers. Telkomsel has pledged it would jumpstart an integrated, ICT-based MDG program.

XL has started contributing to education by developing a digital reading application called “XL Baca.” It is working with a number of publishers to make the publication accessible via almost all mobile devices. Slowly, the reading habit of the rural people will grow, and this will have a strong influence on their capability to generate new income, to recognize the importance of sanitation, etc.

Nokia Life Tools is a program launched by not an operator or a service provider but by a vendor to expose rural people to technology. Together with other parties, Nokia provides various information including crop prices, education materials and entertainment news using the simple SMS service.

It seems that the government should consider making it easier for investors to come in and the service providers to shift to a higher gear as they expand from the urban to rural areas.

The impact on the life of the rural people would be tremendous. As the ITU stresses in its Website, “ICT will provide enhanced opportunities to generate income and combat poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy.”

(Jakarta Post, 16 May 2011)