E-governance is passe, i-governance is in

Some weeks ago, I wrote about what I call s-governance, or social governance. This was essentially about the need for governments to go beyond e-governance to render public services to citizens to actually using social media to manage social tensions and offer political accountability.

Now, after attending a conference last week, I am wiser, and think it is time to fold in more with i-governance — or Internet governance. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the ministry of communications and information technology and the Internet Society jointly organised in Delhi the India Internet Governance Conference  that covered a whole range of issues that sent in a basic message: the Internet is a revolutionary challenge that requires a deeper understanding and action on several fronts.

To understand this, let us look back at what happened in the past 20 years or so. The Internet browser changed the way people accessed information. In the first phase, techies and later, others used it to upload and surf content. In the second phase we had e-mail giving way to e-commerce, involving online shops and services.

Then we had e-governance, when  governments got into the act to aid citizens.

But parallelly, we  saw the rise of hackers and, it turns out, cyber terrorists and cyber stalkers. Social media — the rise of Facebook and Twitter and other sites — gave rise to new social habits and trends. We had the Arab Spring aided by Facebook pages, spreading democratic thoughts as fast as a computer virus. Governments have fallen thanks to Facebook.

In one simple term, I call it all the “Mainstreaming of Geekdom”.

The IIGC covered a broad range of topics that captured the essence of the moment.  From strengthening the “multistakeholder process” to frame policies to broadband access for all; from cyber security and data protection to digital literacy and management of scarce technological resources in machine-to-machine communications; from hate speeches on the Internet to the shifting sands of the media industry; the conference touched it all.

Broadband penetration is now a social and developmental objective, not just a fancy thing for downloading movies in affluent homes. Hate speeches and rumours affecting social peace and diplomatic tensions is now a reality. Recent IT regulations in India have been challenged by free speech activists, even as peace lovers want to end the abuse of the Internet by terrorists and hate mongers.

The Internet is not what it used to be a mere decade ago. With 130 million broadband users in India, it clearly has arrived to higher goals — and obstacles — in its growth path.


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