Today’s panel discussion organized by Agami got me thinking of what institutions we need for the present (not the future).
The broad theme of the conversation centered on the right to access the internet. It was moderated by Vakasha Sachdev, Legal Editor at the Quint and I felt incredibly lucky to be share views by Justice (Retd.) B.D. Ahmed, Aruna Sundarajan (Former Telecom Secretary) and Rahul Mathan (Founding Partner, Trilegal, Author and host of the Ex-Machina podcast).
The full conversation can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfFkuRr0nsg&feature=youtu.be
Some broad afterthoughts and take-aways from the panel were:
There exists a tremendous digital divide in India. Large segments of our population do not have access to high quality, broadband internet. To realise this, we need not only the recognition of the internet as a fundamental right but a complex policy toolkit. This includes creation of underlying network infrastructure as well as a need for the Government to provide subsidies (if, not free access and smartphones) to people. This was indicated by Ms. Sundarajan in her remarks with force and clarity. In my remarks I reffered to back of the envelope analysis of TRAI reports that viewers may find useful.
In the existence of this unequal distribution of the provision of internet services making core government delivery mechanisms dependent only on the internet is likely to result in social inequity. It will further marginalize the marginalized. Draw away ounces power from the powerless. Here state institutions can play a bridging role to mitigate such shifts while making all deployments backward compatible (a core policy decision reflected in the Information Technology Act, 2000). Here, Justice Ahmed had a practical solution coming from his years of experience of judicial administration. He suggested that especially for e-courts which conduct proceedings remotely to involve the State Legal Services Authorities (that are tasked with providing legal aid) to play a bridging function and provide facilities of filing and participation of legal proceedings by creating shared infrastructure that can be used by the every litigant.
Finally, what do we think as we look ahead? How are we to even make sense of our challenges due to Covid ? The solutions will rest in building institutions not for the future, but today. As Mr. Mathan indicated it will require existing ones to consider technology as a core element of public policy. Today, the internet is today no longer a luxury, or even a necessity, it is a valuable human right to live a meaningful existence.
I started the day today reading Marc Andreessen’s somewhat radical call for re-imagining and building solutions (personally, I disagree with some of his prescriptions and feel that some technology companies often fail to pay their fair share of taxes that impairs state capacity for quality education and healthcare). But the day came full circle. At the end, I think today’s conversation posed some modest proposals for building solutions with agility and pace.
If you have any views, as always, I and the IFF team is waiting to hear from you. We genuinely believe that each person who writes to us helps us reflect, reconsider and ultimately strengthens our mission to advance fundamental right in our digital society.