January 2008

Empowering the rural communities

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Introduction
LIRNEasia, in association with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBI) of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, organised the CPRsouth2 (Communication Policy Research) conference, in Chennai, India between December 15 and 17, 2007. The conference aimed to provide a forum for senior, junior and mid-career scholars to meet face-to-face and exchange ideas, establish networking opportunities and improve the quality of their scholarly work in ICT policy and regulatory reform in the region.

CPRsouth is intended to be a vehicle for building capacity in communication policy research in the Asia-Pacific in the first instance, and then in the South. The core functions of CPRsouth are to organise an annual conference and to provide a virtual platform for interaction among communication policy researchers in the South.

The objective is to create policy intellectuals capable of informed and effective intervention in ICT policy and regulatory processes in specific country contexts, within the larger context of communication policy research as a field flourishing in the universities and research institutes of the South. The inaugural conference, CPRsouth1, was held in January 19-21, 2007 at Manila, Philippines, in association with the National College of Public Administration and Governance, University of the Philippines, Diliman. LIRNEasia has received funds from IDRC to initiate CPRsouth and a leading group of scholars from Asia have agreed to serve on the CPRsouth Board.

The three day CPRsouth2 conference offered researchers the opportunity to discuss their research on ICT regulation and policy in the South with a largely academic, international audience and obtain useful feedback. The event included pre and post conference tutorial sessions on December 14 and 18, 2007, for young scholars which will focus on the fundamentals of technology, markets, regulation and policy with insights on how to develop practical solutions to problems of empowering rural and marginalised populations. On the third day of the event, the participants were taken to Madurai, southern part of Tamil Nadu, for a field visit to understand the practical issues of the rural community.

Proceedings
The conference was designed to accommodate 22 paper presenters spanning over 8 thematic sessions. Each session was chaired by an expert in the domain and a discussant. The chair introduced the theme followed by the presentation of the scholars and the discussant closed the sessions by making their observations about the papers.

The conference was focusing on deployment of innovative technologies to reach the bottom of the pyramid. It provided an opportunity for the young scholars to present their case and mentored by senior scholars to improve their research skills. Daniel Fink of Brazil, presented an interesting paper on 'Analysis of feasibile connectivity solutions based on Power Line Communication (PLC) to rural and remote areas'. The authors developed deployment options for PLC in rural areas and presented a rural broadband analysis model, focused on South Asian countires, with policy and strategy recommendations to municipalities. But it failed to look into the critical challenges involved in the deployment like electromagnetic intereference. Helani Galpaya of Sri Lanka, presented a paper on 'Taking e-Gov to the bottom of the pyramid now: Dial-a-gov'. In this paper, the authors were advocating for a combination of mobile phones as the delivery channel and targeting the parts of government services that are simple/easily delivered to reach the bottom of the pyramid early. Other than this, many other presentations were focusing on deployment of mobile technologies to reach the masses. “But, when we talk of using mobiles, reaching bottom of the pyramid, more than 70 percent of the people are living in the rural areas, where the teledensity is less than 2 percent compared to 20 percent in the urban areas. I feel that the role of public access to technology through telecentres cannot be underminded when we talk of serving the base of the pyramid”, the authors have argued. 



Rajendra Kumar, presented his case on 'Why institutional partnerships matter'. The author compared the social development model and franchise model of telecentres in the rural parts of southern Tamil Nadu. He argued that social development model is serving the community better than franchisee model. “This provided an insight to my dissertation. In this study, I realised that the sustainability of a telecentre is not depending on  mainly on the willingness of all the three stakeholders namely the state, civil society, and private sector”, he said.

On the second day of the conference, LIRNEasia's new book, 'ICT infrastructure in emerging Asia: Policy and regulatory roadblocks' was launched. The book is based on research in five emerging Asian countries. The first copies of the book were handed over to Chief Guests of the event, Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala and Prof. William Melody.

The key highlight of the conference was the field visit to Madurai, southern part of Tamil Nadu, to understand the practical issues of the rural community. The final session of the conference was on 'Problems and prospects of regulation in the context of democratic governance systems in the Asia Pacific. Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala chaired the session. Rekha Jain of India and Yuli Liu of Taiwan shared their experiences. The conference came to an end with the feedback from the participants to improve the quality of CPRsouth conference. The conference had seen particpation of more than 70 scholars involved in the field of ICT policy and regulation from different parts of the globe, including 15 young scholars. It provided a platform for young scholars to learn and improve the quality of research on ICT interventions.

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