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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Dividing Digital

LANKA BUSINESS ONLINE: 18 July 2004 14:34 hours

A top UN agency says information communications technology in the country needs to focus more on technology as a social leveler.

The report by the UNDP says the government, regulators and other agencies need to band together to improve IT penetration.
The report comes two years after Sri Lanka adopted an ICT master plan to take the benefits of technology and communications to its citizens.

Local software makers plan to make combined revenue of half a billion US dollars in 5 years by sustaining industry growth at 30 percent a year.

It is a challenge, when considering the country’s low computer density.

A UNDP study that looked at ICT for human development in Sri Lanka, says there is less than one PC for every one hundred people in the country.

More developed countries like the US have around 80 PC’s for every one hundred people.

Progress has been slow on the e-Sri Lanka project, a strategy to take the benefits of ICT to the population, adopted by the previous government two years ago.

The high cost of technology is one big limiting factor.

Although the price of a personal computer has fallen over the years, the high cost of Internet and other services have prevented widespread use of PC's.

The UNDP report says Internet and email penetration has been slow as a result, unlike the fast adoption of TVs when they first came out.

Around 70,000 connections to the Internet give access to 150,000 people to the web according to data published by the International Telecommunication Union.

Internet and email subscriber numbers have been growing but only in urban areas. Rural areas are still off line.

Rural connectivity is depending on network rollout a slow process in Sri Lanka.

Critics say proactive regulatory initiatives and a new Communications Act aimed at facilitating competition can help improve rural connectivity.

However, the telecom regulator, the TRC, does not have a director general three months after a new government took office.

Telecom operators are concerned about the long-term implications of these delays.

The UNDP report that looks at how ICT can help promote human development says other building blocks are also needed.

Low computer literacy at grass root level and the lack of a proper legal framework are among the issues that need focusing on.

The implementation body of the e Sri Lanka plan, the ICT Agency (ICTA), is promoting IT education in schools to catch them young.

The digital divide is however, very real.

An Education Ministry survey found that only around 228 out of nearly 9000 schools island wide had a computer lab.

But the World Bank backed agency is running on a very tight budget.

The US$ 53 mn in the pipeline for ICT has been delayed till next year due to political instability.

The uncertainty is having a cascading effect on the ICT sector in general.

Fears of policy reversals and lack of clear policy in areas like technology neutral licensing are threatening future investment.

Critics say hundreds of computer labs in rural schools will mean little if crucial reforms needed in the telecom and other linked infrastructure to leverage the benefits.

ICT, a great leveler for human development can also be a great divider unless access is universal.

-LBR Newsdesk: LBOEmail@vanguardlanka.com

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