Technology in the dark

Bus in Goa

I have been reflecting on how much ICT infrastructure defines the ‘development’ of a place when compared with other basic infrastructure. After reading the blog post ‘The Role of ICT in poverty eradication’ written by my colleague Masud, I was inspired to write this post sharing my outsider’s perceptions of my experiences with India’s basic infrastructure (particularly in Goa) since arriving here two weeks ago.

My flight from Europe landed in New Delhi; from there I had to catch an internal flight to Goa so at the border control I had to present my e-visa (acquired and paid beforehand) to the officer and I had my picture and finger prints electronically taken. Although I felt uneasy wondering why all this data is needed, from a technological point of the view this was the same process I went thought when arriving in the USA a couple of years ago, so the technology is not lack behind there. The same cannot be said once I landed in Goa and decided to use public transport to reach my final destination. As I stepped out of the airport I had to walk down the road with vehicles beeping behind me, as there was no pavement for pedestrians. A thrilling start. I was not expecting electronic panels telling me the time of the next bus, but I was hoping to at least find some kind of sign identifying a bus stop. Instead, a bus came behind me whilst I was walking and someone inside it shouted the destination I wanted to go to, so I just jumped in.

Bus in Goa II

I had to take four different buses to reach my destination. The buses were so old and badly maintained that one would not believe they were still running. In the last leg of the journey, I had to wait for 50 minutes while the conductor shouted at passers-by trying to get more passengers in, and the bus only left once it was full. In total, a journey which was going to take me around 1.5 hours by taxi, took me four hours. Of course most visitors take taxis to move around. The Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) even has its own ride-hailing company, Goa Miles (as Uber is not allowed in the state). However, the idea to undertake a 60 kilometres taxi journey on my own did not sound very eco-friendly to me. As I had no specific arrival time or a job to go to, this trip was an adventure. However, I would feel very differently if I had to depend on this system to commute every day.

In contrast, around 90% of the passengers crammed in these buses were looking at their smartphones. This illustrates that the mobile phone technology is probably receiving more investment than the transport infrastructure, and is seemly affordable. Indeed, the India Times (2019) reported on a study which showed that India has the cheapest mobile data in the world when compared to 230 other countries. The article goes on to say that ‘the average price of USD 0.26 for one gigabyte (GB) in India compares to USD 6.66 in the UK and USD 12.37 for the same amount of data in the US’. It also explains that the sharp decrease in price happened in 2016, following a price war in India’s hyper-competitive telecom market with the launch of 4G phone service Jio (with free domestic voice calls and cheap data services).

According to the BBC (2019), buying a new smart phone in India costs in average 15,000 rupees (E$180) but the ChineseXiaomi, which owns 28% of the Indian market, sells phones as cheap as 10,000 rupees. The report also says that ‘Chinese companies now control more than half of India’s burgeoning smartphone market – with more than 450 million users’. I would also believe that, as in most places, India has a second hand market for smartphones with even more affordable options.

The Broadband technology is also well spread in Goa. Every beach hut, coffee shop or bar on the beaches near me offer WIFI for customers, who can also pay using contactless payment. The irony is that the electricity system is not so reliable, power cuts happen quite often and sometimes for long periods of time, and obviously with no electricity there is no WIFI. A different issue is the reliability of the broadband quality; I have experience a frustratingly inconsistent internet access service here, both inside my accommodation and out of it. I spent hours offline with no idea of when I would be online again, which is not ideal when you have deadlines to meet. Although, I believe that this may partly be due to the number of people trying to use the internet at peak times.

Nowadays technology is so embedded in our daily life that it impossible to dispute its importance alongside other services such as transport and electricity. However it is important to question how and for what technology is being used. From my brief experience in Goa so far, it seems that investment is being prioritised in areas which will bring more financial return to a few, rather than on what could improve the quality of life for all. Do you have the same view?

References
BBC, 2019 Avaialble at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-50135050
India times, 2019 Avaiable at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/india-has-the-cheapest-mobile-data-in-world-study/articleshow/68285820.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

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  1. Pingback: Three ways to be glued to your screen and feel good - Aid-ea

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