Assam ambitious attempt to empower rural women through internet without improving infrastructure

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Editorial

Thomas Lim
Mobile internet is now a necessity, but due to heavy traffic, the resultant slow speeds have caused a lot of hardships for the users. In spite of such poor communication network, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition government in Assam has launched the ambitious Internet Saathi Project which is being implementing by the Gramya Vikash Mancha in Assam’s Nalbari, Kamrup (rural), Barpeta and Baksa districts. Apart from Assam, the project is being implemented in ten states across India. Around 16,000 women were engaged all over the country as Internet Saathis to run the project.

It may be mentioned that the developmental objective of the project is social empowerment of at least 1,20,000 women from 557 villages under Nalbari, Kamrup (Rural), Baksa and Barpeta. The Assam Government is going to train the community, particularly 90 rural women, about 21st century technology, providing them internet facilities, informed Project Coordinator of the Mancha, Pranjal Chakraborty.
Chakraborty added that 160 Internet Sathis have been engaged by them so far and these have touched the lives of several thousand Assamese women. The Internet Sathis set off every morning to meet groups of women and generate awareness about the knowledge revolution called internet.
Then they show them how to use the internet on their mobiles for different activities from downloading informative videos from YouTube, searching for information of their requirement, be it on education or health or any other subject.
The project definitely is a welcomed move, however, the state government should first improve the telecommunication system, as more use of an already clogged system will further create a jam, and the new users, particularly from the rural sectors will be at lost as where and how to air their grievances.
Unlike other metro cities having state-owned telecommunications service providers, such poor connection of telecommunication, particularly the internet services are not confined to Assam alone, but the entire North Eastern Region.
In the case of Meghalaya, the state is entirely dependent on the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) which is operating in the state under the direct supervision and control of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). This means that the state government has no authority or even power to voice grievances for substandard services being provided to the state, affecting approximately over 2.8 lakh customers in the state, who have been assured of 4G experience with high speed mobile internet services.
Meghalaya has opened up the entry of every possible services provider since there is no standard format for agreement and telecom service providers, being the core of the application services value chain, usually dominate in finalizing the terms and conditions of the agreement. Above that, limitation of space from BSNL, where all the other service providers are eating up bandwidth has caused a congestion of the services, resulting in slow and poor network which every consumer is facing and which is violating their consumer rights for a quality services.
With the failure of the telephonic networks, the service providers have never considered that a jammed network due to overloading of users could cost somebody their life. In many cases the emergency numbers are blocked due to such poor services, thus all the mobile services providers should be taken to task. It is time to verify the services provided by every service provider and questions need to be asked as to whether they are fulfilling their services as assured to the customers while applying for the connection.
Above that most of the service providers do not even have a customer service point to provide information regarding service disruptions. The customer services are only for providing new connections and collecting bills. It seems they have forgotten the customers once they have climbed on board. This is cheating and the companies should understand that customers will not remain silent forever.
Poor services are not affecting only the general public as Legislators, Executive and Judiciary too are facing the same irritation due to frequent breakdown of network. However all remain mere spectators as the dealing for the telecommunication is directly through the Central Government, while the state government only provides No Objection Certificate for setting up of towers without being able to put up their own terms and conditions especially regarding uninterrupted network.
The Government of Meghalaya does not have a department for Telecommunications, hence none of the grievance can be heard. In West Khasi Hills district, Garo Hills and other parts of the state there are frequent agitations and demands for upgrading or improving the telecommunication services, but all are being diverted to the central government or the TRAI. However there is no significant improvement, as in most cases, poor electricity supply is being blamed for such poor services even as these service providers deny that heavy usage causing the congestion. Consumers meanwhile keep applying for more connections which invariably means that the services are not going to improve at all.
The state government is not at all expected to remain a mute spectator to such violation of the telecommunication department which is making big bucks by renting out space to other service providers while the consumers are facing the brunt of the problems.
It is time for the authorities concerned and the NGOs to immediately take stock of the seriousness of the issue and either ban the errant service providers or set a deadline for all the telecommunication network services providers to upgrade their services or give up the market here. At no cost can Meghalaya be a dumping ground for them at the cost of lives in this case. The services in the rural areas are the worst hit as due to poor electricity supply the service providers are forced to operate with generators and towers there are learned to be operated not by electricity but by generators where services last as long as the diesel does.
Assam, the state having its own mobile Circle, unlike other states which need to share a whole circle with other states, too does not have extremely fast internet services, or telecommunication system. The Digital India concept should focus on improving the services system then implement additional services and projects.


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