Equipment & Infrastructure Constraints (Barrier)

Infrastructure gaps and lack of widespread access to ICTs created communication-related barriers to meeting development goals. The projects that began in the late 1990s or early 2000s experienced the most extreme limitations:

“So the first realization was technology has not reached 90-plus percentage of India at that time-- 1998. It’s a lot different now. In ‘97-‘98, mobile phones were few and far between; mobile phones were unheard of and so in that context computers were one percent of population had knowledge of them. So thing was, computers were not benefiting the vast majority of India.” (Project leader)

“Historical context of [project name] is that when we started, cell phones in India, they were very expensive. It was unaffordable for people to buy a cell. Even a landline phone was a luxury 40-50 years ago. I remember on the street I lived there were 3 phones in 50 families, maybe 30 years back. There were no other phones.” (Team member)

The use of mobile phones proliferated over time, but infrastructure gaps, particularly inconsistent electrical power, continued to pose challenges:

“At any time you try to reach remote areas, the main problem is infrastructure. There is a power issue. When the test was done, there was no phone line. There was no power for 7-8 hours.” (Team member)

“You cannot assume they will have power. So you need a low-power device; it cannot be a power guzzler.” (Project leader)

The second quote points to a connection between this barrier (equipment access and infrastructure gaps) and a mitigating bridge: appropriate technology. Using low power devices, intermittently connected devices, or applications that run on minimum bandwidth can mitigate some access-related barriers. Several project leaders said that the communication strategies employed in their project were driven by local constraints, which eliminated several possibilities they had initially tested:

“It was a lot about just trying to understand how things actually work on the ground, what are some of the main local conditions. We experimented with all kinds of ideas for education technology interventions, and as we started experimenting, we realized that a lot of these ideas cannot work.” (Project leader)

A participant associated with one of the agricultural projects said that in more population-dense areas with regularly scheduled power outages, they used televisions to show agricultural training videos. Village farmers could easily congregate at a single location, and the outage hours could be avoided. But then the project expanded to less population-dense areas, where the closest available electricity was 5-10 kilometers away. To show agricultural training videos in these communities, project members experimented with several technologies, including battery-powered televisions and Pico projectors:

“So what we’ve now moved to these Pico projectors, which are these handheld types of projectors that have onboard batteries which have extra loud speakers which can be loaded with SD cards, very portable, can be compact and protected from some of the rain water and dust types of issues that can often plague these DVD readers and TV CRT tubes.¬†And so we’ve kind of adapted in this sort of iterative way.” (Project leader)

This iterative design strategy proved useful for several projects to mitigate access-related barriers to development goals. For example, several projects that initially used computers to convey information shifted to mobile phones because of dwindling access to computers as Internet kiosks closed down:

“PCs are not that widespread, not among the users we are targeting if you look at targeting people in rural areas.” (Team member)

“The number of kiosks has almost gone down to zero in the pilot [area].” (Project leader)

“The pilot kiosks have dwindled to zero, but across the country they still continue. What happened was the client base [couldn’t support the kiosks].” (Project leader)

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