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Have Sri Lankans been told about the benefits of Internet?

The word Internet has become a very familiar word to many people living in this country. Despite its popularity, majority of Sri Lankan households remained isolated from Information super-highway for the past ten years.

Internet education has managed to change the early education by creating a virtual classroom environment.

Lack of computer usage, highly priced Internet services, coverage and unawareness are cited as the main responsible factors for not having widespread Internet penetration in the country. However when existing users are taken into consideration, it is doubtful whether they have identified the importance of Internet properly even though they use Internet frequently.

More than a decade has passed since the introduction of Internet; but no significant contribution has been made to our national economy and to the growth of GDP. This would be a very disappointing situation.

Logically the success of the Internet in any society is reflected by a particular country’s GDP index. Precisely, this colossal amount of contribution that it directly offers to the GDP would have been the reason for other countries to adopt Internet technology in the process of developing their economies.

While other countries reap the harvest, we are still searching for fields to plough. Lengthy projects have consumed valuable time and that would be a huge loss for the country. Therefore, the time has come to act swiftly to bring the benefit of Internet to the country.

However, to understand the real situation, it is wise to identify the factors that have actually dampened the Internet penetration in the country. If we consider the growth, Sri Lankan Internet module looks more like a self motivated one than a well established widespread module.

To be more precise, people will subscribe to the Internet after having identified the benefits of internet by themselves. The majority of these users have obtained Internet services to meet the demands of their existing requirements and not in the search of new opportunities and services.

This demand of Internet could be categorised as ‘application oriented Internet demand’ by analysing the usage behavior of the users. In many occasions their use of Internet is limited to primary objectives and would rarely be used for other activities. This may be due to the unawareness of many other tasks that he or she could do over the Internet very easily.

As a result of this self motivated Internet phenomenon, the intended benefits of the Internet that the country would require for its development has been wasted. This is exactly what has happened in Sri Lanka for the past twelve years while other countries achieved their Internet based targets timely.

To prevent retardation and achieve the maximum out of Internet, other countries have taken a number of strategic measures to guide and educate citizens about the benefits of Internet in their respective countries.

Having identified the role that a Government could play, the Governments initially put many citizens services over the Internet for the access of the public. Actually this was done mainly to promote the use of Internet in the society and to increase the efficiency of the Government services.

This action of the authorities that displays example through leadership is the important factor that any country would need in the process of promoting Internet in respective societies.

The semi-compulsory nature of the Government services which is provided over the Internet could attract more people to use Internet for transactions and services effectively.

The semi-compulsory nature consisted of - best option, time save, cost effectiveness and user friendly characteristics would tempt citizens to use Government services voluntarily. The other phenomenon is due to the lack of knowledge among Internet users; many use Internet for browsing Internet and downloading e-mails.

These are regarded as basic applications of Internet that wouldn’t require high speed Internet service at users end. Without knowing its capabilities, these users remain satisfied thinking that these are the best that they could do over the Internet. Based on that, the speed and the price would never become a concern as they only use Internet for limited applications.

To overcome this resource wastage and to assure the maximum benefit out of Internet, the public must be educated about the advantages and the things that they could do over the Internet to increase the productivity of any individual task that they may under take. Due to the absence of a national broadband awareness initiative, high speed broadband Internet weren’t properly recognised in the mainstream of the country.

Worsening this situation further, the other factors too have created an unhealthily market situation in the country.

As we know, e-mail is a well known communication facility that comes with the Internet. When these programs become popular, people started to use e-mail for multipurpose tasks in addition to transfer of text messages. Photos, video clips, documents and even software programs were often attached and sent across to other parties over the Internet easily.

The camera mobile phones and other similar hand-held multimedia devices such as iPods and digital cameras have become increasingly popular among people than ever before.

In this context, when transferring captured and stored content in these devices, IP platform is identified as the fastest and most cost effective medium of doing so.

Therefore the growing demand of emerging multimedia applications pushes the user right into the Internet platform by further increasing the demand of Internet even in simplest applications available today.

However, users find it difficult in unlocking some of these features due to restrictions imposed by operators. Surprisingly some operators are still continuing 10MB mail box quota which was allocated in 1998 to this very date while others in the world provide 10GB (10,240MB) to their customers.

As we know, due to user friendly characteristics, e-mail is regarded as the easiest method of transferring data between computers. But a local provider doesn’t allow users to transfer his or her pictures, video clips and other multimedia content, by implementing limitations on email storage. Free e-mail services such as hotmail, yahoo and gmail would come as alternates.

The next available option is the third party software-based file sharing technique but it requires some knowledge at user end.

When broadband Internet is concerned, price and the speed cannot be simply ignored. While prices kept away the users from acquiring Internet, speed has managed to discourage the people from using the Internet. The price comparison shows that Sri Lankans pay more money for less speed monthly, for their Internet connection than in India. For Sri Lankan rupees of 3,200 one could get 8Mbps broadband service in India even with a phone connection.

So their Internet speed is 1,500 percent higher than in Sri Lanka and this allows them to surf the Internet quickly to complete their tasks than we do. Apart from lower prices and higher speed, Internet users in other countries are entitled to get more features as well. Subscribers of broadband Internet will be provided with free International calls during off peak time in addition to unlimited e-mail space and free web space in many instances.

If we provide high speed Internet as other countries do, many students in the country would be able to do their studies over the Internet regardless of the location of the university or the classroom. But the reality is while children in other countries use Internet for educational purposes our children are desperately looking at it simply because they cannot afford to have Internet service at home. In this context, primary and secondary education is highly affected.

Both distant education and e-learning have faced numerous challenges in the phase of providing services due to deprived quality of broadband services. Among many affected, medical students were highly affected due to the poor quality of broadband services which lies beyond their control. The truth is, access to documentary educational video materials have become a luxury for Sri Lankan students.

Now it has been made clear that the country would require a unique plan - backed by the Government in the future - to ensure wide spread of Internet growth across the country. Among many reasons, public unawareness and unsuccessful strategic plans in the past were cited as the factors responsible for the creation of underdeveloped Internet market in the country. Aggressive yet specially developed strategy could be used in this regard to achieve mass scale benefits to people and the country.

Nevertheless public awareness initiative would not become a fruitful gesture unless we provide ‘knowledge through experience’mechanism at the initial phase. This allows public to experience the Internet practically to identify its advantages by themselves. Therefore, putting services online alone would do no good unless we motivate people to use Internet more frequently in their daily tasks.

The truth is, people will never consider using Internet unless they have been convinced about its benefits. Even convinced, it does not assure anything in return to the country unless we provide fast affordable service.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas
Mount View Residencies
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
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