This story was first published in The Better India on April 7, 2016
Until 2011, the Dabri village on the outskirts of Birni, one of the 13 community development blocks of Giridih district in Jharkhand state, suffered from intermittent and often non-functional Internet connectivity. It was served by only one telecom provider, which was slow to respond to issues that arose in the network. To overcome this problem, Digital Empowerment Foundation’s Wireless for Communities (W4C) programme stepped in to take backhaul connectivity directly from the telecom’s exchange at Birni. A wireless base tower was likewise set up on the roof of Dabri’s Community Information Resource Centre.
[Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) provide DEF the basic backbone needed for rolling out all kinds of digital interventions for development. They are set up in rural and semi-urban areas of backward districts with computers, printers, scanners and all basic digital equipment. The basic goal of CIRCs is to spread digital literacy and empower hitherto information-dark and marginalised communities to access all possible benefits of digital inclusion and access to the global information super highway.]
These days, at least 10 users, including several local businesses, within a radius of five kilometres enjoy wireless Internet access at the same time in Dabri. The Birni Block Development Office, the Block Education Office and the Block Resource Centre all use the same wireless connectivity, which officials say is much more reliable than the one provided by the telecom company.
The entire network is being managed by local community members who have been trained under the Training of Trainers programme. These community members also help run the digital literacy programmes for youth and schoolchildren.
One of the beneficiaries from this region is Rajendra Verma. A young man, Verma knew that becoming a cooking gas retail sales agent of a major Indian oil firm like Hindusthan Petroleum (HP) could be a very profitable business in a semi-urban area like Birni. But for him to be granted an agent’s permit, he needed Internet connectivity, a pre-requisite by oil companies, to conduct many of their transactions online. Birni’s connectivity, which at the time was provided by a state-owned as well as several private ISPs, was either too slow or too costly for Verma. Rajendra needed to have at least a 512 kpbs connection speed, and the W4C programme provided him with at least double that speed in 2013, at a highly affordable price.
Today, his gas distributorship business is a roaring success. “Without this wireless connectivity I could not have carried on my business. And I get smooth and stable connectivity,” he says.
Dabri village, which lies 50 kilometres from the district headquarters in Giridih and some 200 kilometres from the state headquarters in Ranchi, demonstrates how a fairly remote area can benefit from broadband connectivity using the W4C wireless network.
The W4C programme has allowed many other people like him across the country to become entrepreneurs. While somebody is selling cooking gas, somebody else is selling local handicraft through Facebook and yet another is managing bookings for a small bed-and-breakfast establishment.