High time to frame a Digital Content Policy

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With the current level of general and e-literacy, existence of 22 languages, explosion of mobile phone subscriber base, steady growth of Internet users etc, the immediate requirement of such a content policy cannot be overstated, argues Ashis Sanyal.

If we take a quick look in the areas of ICT infrastructure readiness in the country it is evident that we have covered significant ground since the last decade. The large G2G middleware network SWANs started functioning across the country barring 2 or 3 States/UTs, backend storage infrastructure like SDCs are functioning in 18-20 States, front-end access points like CSCs are operational in rural India in around 80,000 Panchayat villages. NKN, to connect 1800 Knowledge Institutions of the country, is proliferating slowly but steadily. National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, to connect 2,50,000 Village Panchayats through OFC, has started with an ambitious timeline of completion by 2013-14.

The State Service Delivery Gateways (SSDG) are getting established in the States/UTs. Pilot implementations of Mobile Service Delivery Gateway (MSDG) in two places are underway. In the private sector there is a continuous upgradation and expansion of telecom infrastructure adopting emerging technologies wherever feasible. With the passage of few more months we would definitely see a clear picture about the ICT-enabled e-government infrastructure which would be used by the citizens, to meet the needs of various government and private services.

Now we need a good number of services applications and wide variety of other digital content which would ride and use the multitude of ICT infrastructure. The moot question is whether we presently have any comprehensive, well defined and supportive policy environment which would not only excite content and application developers to meet the immediate need of the citizens and the government but also would pave the way for future innovations. Arguably, we do not have any specific government content policy now which would address this situation. Whatever we encounter in this context is very limited reactive phenomena of government clarifications on some issues related to content on social media, objectionable content in Internet et el.

The otherwise un-structured content eco-system is currently sporadic, fragmented and without support of any conducive and desirably incentivized policy environment created by government, which can excite the new actors to come to the arena of content and application creation. It appears both public and private sector are not having any inclination to nurture innovation in this area. Current players are also devoid of sustainable business models, due to apathy of telecom carrier agencies. Soft arm-twisting of the content or application developers by the Telecom Service Providers is not very uncommon. Interestingly the recently announced Telecom Policy, which has tinge of some e-governance aspects, also does not prescribe any content creation mechanism.

By virtue of having different States with varied culture, language and other social variants, we have a unique and intense issue of localization of content across the country. Replication of any useful content created in one state in to other states would immediately pose a challenge of language conversion. The overwhelming size of pending work in this area becomes evident when we notice that out of half-a-million Websites existing in the country, only around 25,000 Websites are in any one of the 22 vernacular languages! Rest of the Websites is in English language while recent Census revealed that around 5% people only in this country understands and speaks that language! If one counts only basic activities of creation and translation of plain content in the country, then the quantum of untapped work would be mind boggling : 70% of 26 million MSMEs in the country did not create any digital content or Website as on date ; there is no website or content for most of the Parliament and Assembly constituencies ; there are only 500 Panchayat websites exist ( that too created by a non-profit NGO under a miniscule PoC category isolated project ) out of around 2,45,000 Panchayats in the country ; more than 85,000 PHCs did not produce any healthrelated digital content so far as they have no website; 1.8 million Anganwadi workers’ experience and knowledge could generate digital content for 100.000 Anganwadi websites which are nonexistent today and the list would be far-ending ! And we have to remember that all these content have to be created in possibly 22 languages!

The policy makers in all relevant government departments and specially in the umbrella departments in the central government, like DeitY, Finance, DARPG etc, who could be instrumental in framing up pan-India Content Policy, therefore should put their minds together, to evolve an appropriate digital content eco-system creation policy for the country.

With the current level of general and e-literacy, existence of 22 languages, explosion of mobile phone subscriber base, steady growth of Internet users etc, the immediate requirement of such a content policy cannot be  overstated. With the fact that India bears the mark of an oral society, a well-framed and incentivized policy would also help the adventurous software developers to try innovative experiments with the content and applications, which can be role model for replications by other countries.

And for the resources required for implementation of such policy, why can we not indulge in somewhat out-of-box innovative thinking? In addition to creating a mass of physical labour wagers under the MGNREG Scheme why can’t we spend a portion of this fund to create an army of rural-based content developers, who would be creating trillion bytes of digital content in local languages, related to the social sector services suitable for rural India? Dear Sirs…please think over it.


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