Are food subsidized at Infosys Bangalore

India: Everyone on the net


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In Cologne, Berlin or Hamburg, Cybercafé sounds like a fossil from the early phase of the digital age. In India, on the other hand, cybercafé is an outpost of modernity. "This is the digital India we are working for here," says Sunil Kumar, 33 years old, who runs a cyber café on the outskirts of the city of Ghaziabad in northern India. "A country without corruption." Kumar is fully aware of his historic mission.

Sunil Kumar is currently filling out an online form on his computer for Kalavati, an elderly woman from a neighboring village. It is about their entitlement to a state pension. From the same screen, Kalavati could also apply for an eligibility certificate for subsidized food rations or a passport. Tedious office visits are no longer necessary - and that also means: Nobody can demand bribes. For India's citizens, harassed by many officials with authoritarian behavior and extortionate demands for bribery, fast and clean state administration using the Internet would indeed be a revolution.

India and the Internet: On the one hand, there is the IT metropolis Bangalore, a kind of Asian Silicon Valley with internationally successful software companies such as Infosys. On the other hand: hundreds of millions of poor people struggling for their daily survival and who have other concerns than access to the Internet. The India in between can be seen in Sunil Kumar's Cybercafé. A country in which the Internet is spreading rapidly and experimenting with its use in a variety of ways, a digital "developing country" in the literal, double sense: far behind compared to the West or China and at the same time with dramatic growth.



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Kumar's Cybercafé is a so-called Common Service Center, or CSC for short. The CSCs are part of an ambitious major project by the Indian government, with which the digitization of the country is to be advanced and public services are increasingly to be carried out via the Internet. The CSCs are half state, half business, operated not by civil servants, but by small business people who have acquired an additional license for this.

In the CSCs you can get your tax number, take out insurance for your livestock or book an English course. Some offer telemedicine: an examination device is used to take pictures of the inside of the eye, and doctors in a hospital in Delhi or another metropolis make a provisional diagnosis based on the images. Some of the CSCs are tiny, nothing more than the shopkeeper's sideline, otherwise charging his cell phone. In others, however, there is a lot going on, like Sunil Kumar. In the anteroom of the office, in which he and a colleague serve his customers together, there are more than a dozen people, crowded together, the queue extending out into the street.

Where there is no internet yet, Facebook wants to make a free offer

Also because of the Common Service Center, Telecommunications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was able to announce recently that a good 400 million Indians now have access to the Internet, and this year it should be more than 500 million.

India’s politics want an internet for everyone - but not at any price. This was shown recently by the decision of the Indian telecommunications regulator (Trai) to ban Free Basics. A selection of websites and apps that are made available free of charge to those smartphone users who have not yet surfed on their mobile phones. The American internet company Facebook is behind Free Basics, which is now available in more than 30 countries worldwide, including Angola, Thailand and Bangladesh. In India, Facebook wanted to offer Free Basics together with a domestic telecommunications company, for example the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, news from the BBC and selected health websites should be available. But in the opinion of the regulatory authority, Facebook would have violated the principle of "net neutrality". Net neutrality means that all offers are treated equally. None is forwarded preferentially, the transmission speed does not depend on the content and sender of the data.