Recent technological advances in mobile devices, technology and networks have made it possible for citizens to access information and transact services while on the move. This gives an opportunity for governments to think out of the box while providing services to citizens. This article is a primer on the immense possibilities of mobile governance.
Recently the State Bank of India and Bharti Airtel have partnered to enable money remittance over mobile phones. The project was piloted in a small Himalayan village of Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttaranchal, and it has had far-reaching effects in this village which does not have access to financial and banking services. With inward remittances aggregating to USD 25 billion, India is the biggest recipient of overseas remittances in the world, accounting for around 10 percent of the world market and is growing by 20 percent in India every year. This pilot will allow more than 25 million Indians working overseas to remit money over their mobile phones to families back home who may not even have a bank account.
The above is a small example of the paradigm shift mobile phones have brought about in the traditional way of doing things. India has seen an explosive growth in the mobile telephony segment becoming one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. In India mobile services were commercially launched in August 1995. In the initial years the growth was slow with the total mobile subscriber base at 10.5 million in December 2002. However, soon after, there was a dramatic increase and in the month of May 2007 itself 6.57 million subscribers were added while the corresponding figure for June 2007 is 7.34 million subscribers. The total no. of telephone subscribers stood at 225.21 million at the end of June 2007 of which there were 185.13 million mobile subscribers. Thus about 82 percent of the total telephone subscribers prefer a wireless phone over a fixed line phone. The kind of growth is nothing short of phenomenal.
The above scenario opens up vistas of opportunity for the government to connect to its citizens using the ubiquitous mobile device in every pocket. Currently the government is focused on reaching services and information to citizens through a computer connected to the Internet under the CSC (Common Service Centre) model. Yet there is a plethora of opportunities which can help governments leapfrog from e-Governance to m-Governance (mobile governance). There are three factors which are potential drivers for the transformation from e-Government to m-Government. They are:
(a) In India more people have a mobile phone in their pockets than they have access to a PC with Internet connection. The total no. of Internet broadband connections stood at 2.52 million at the end of June 2007 compared to 185.13 million mobile subscribers.
(b) The initial investment for a mobile device is many orders of magnitude less compared to investing in a computer.
(c) Mobile phones travel with citizens while a computer does not. Thus potentially citizens have instant access to services and information while on
Mobile business is already fast catching on with consumers; people are already shopping, banking, buying movie and railway tickets while on the move. As m-Business evolves there is increasing pressure on governments also to move from e-Governance to m-Governance. m-Government vs e-Government is not an ‘either-or’ situation. m-Government builds upon e-Government. The first phase is to provide through mobile devices what is already available through a computer-based application. The second and more crucial phase is to provide those services and applications which are only possible through wireless and mobile infrastructure.
m-Government can be applied in different areas though currently applications in some areas are in their infancy. The four main purposes are illustrated below with examples.
m-Communication: Information is power and sharing of information promotes accountability and transparency. These two attributes, among others, are the pillars of good governance. Improving the communication between government and citizens allows citizens to be active participants in the governance process. Two good examples of citizen’s participation in governance come from our neighbours. In China, the 150 million mobile phone owners can now send SMS to the 2,987 deputies of the National People’s Congress. In the Philippines, half of cabinet agencies have SMS-based services that allow citizens to ask for information or to comment and complain about government officials and services. Citizens of Singapore can choose to receive SMS alerts for a variety of e-services such as: renewal of road tax, medical examinations for domestic workers, passport renewal notifications, season parking reminders, and parliament notices and alerts. In the UK, the London police have a service that sends alerts to businesses in London about security threats, including bomb alerts. At the height of the SARS incident, the Hong Kong government sent a blanket text message to 6 million mobile phones in a bid to scotch fears emanating from rumours about intended government action to stem the disease.