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The Role of Internet in Social & Economic Development

Bapun Raz

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The rapid growth in technology which ushered in the information age has become the basis for defining power in the modern societies. It is a widely accepted fact that no modern economy can thrive without an integral information technology and telecommunications infrastructure on board.

One of the reasons why the Government of Rwanda adopted national ICT policy and Plan is to influence the spread of the internet as well as the ease of access to it. International connectivity de facto prices and costs have historical roots in an internet that was North American-centric, which some developing countries believe do not reflect the changing patterns of Internet use and are therefore both inappropriate and unfair.

The internet evolution started back when the first recorded description of the social interactions for communication was established by the Atlantic cable of 1858 to carry instantaneous communications across the ocean for the first time. Although the laying of this first cable was seen as a landmark event in society, it was a technical failure. It only remained in service a few days. Subsequent cables laid in 1866 were completely successful and compared to events like the moon landing of a century later.....the cable .....remained in use for almost 100 years.

In 1957, while responding to the 1866 threat of the cable in general and the success of Sputnik in particular, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) through the Department of Defense. This was done immediately after the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of Sputnik. The Atlantic cable of 1858 and Sputnik of 1957 were two basic milestones on the internet prehistory.

Since then the value of products and services is increasingly becoming a function of their information content and the knowledge used to produce them rather than the raw material content. Therefore, the ability to easily access and share information and stimulate the creation of new ideas is viewed as essential to maintaining a strong economy and enhancing quality of life of every Rwandan.

Access to the internet is critical to the development of all aspects of the nation's economy including manufacturing, banking, education, agriculture, trade and commerce, and good governance and the impact of these is reflected in both public and private sectors.

Increased adoption of ICTs in Rwanda implies that businesses in Rwanda must adopt ICTs or become less competitive and hence continue lagging behind. Interestingly enough, in recent past the developing economies started setting up new strategies by creating and enabling environment to encourage development of ICT infrastructure and usage. With the stride so far made, present indications show that the huge gap existing between developed and developing worlds has started to slowly narrow through the support and desire by the governments to engage fully with ICT policy formulations and implementation.

Impact of Internet Communication tools such as telephones and the Internet are increasingly critical to nations' economic success and personal advancement. The advent of the Internet has been greatly described as being as important for society as the development of the personal computer, the telephone or even the media press.

The Internet serves many functions - as virtual community, electronic marketplace, and information source, employment portal for jobseekers, research center, discussion forum, and entertainment center, among others. Internet brings together buyers and sellers and facilitates the flow of information, making it a key driver of trade.

For example access to the Internet in China has grown exponentially since the country established its first connection in 1993. Marketing firms had predicted that China (PRC) would overtake Japan as the leading Asian country in Internet use by 2004.

Through the Internet, people create new businesses or facilitate the delivery of basic services such as healthcare and education. Internet users grow at very steady rate annually. The growth of the Internet creates opportunities for new high speed data networks, new multimedia applications, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), information sharing among users, and convergence of technologies. The development of teleconferencing facilities and multi-media capabilities makes internet possible to combine audio and video facilities, which has been of huge benefit especially in healthcare delivery and distance learning. In agriculture, easier and faster access to up-to-date market and price information assists farmers and rural-based traders in their businesses. Internet can also deliver better access to information on improved seeds, availability of fertilizers, weather forecasting, pest control and other agricultural-related services. What is important is to have reliable and aff ordable access to internet in particular for our rural farmers and traders.

It is obvious and common practice for surgeons in one part of the country, or another part of the world, to consult with other specialists while performing operations and such operations can also be, at the same time, monitored by other surgeons in any part of the world. This reduces time and cost a nation would incur to hire those expatriates or send people for training to deliver the same service. Through this kind of technology, specialists share skills, knowledge, and experience without necessarily coming physically together.

For education, internet technology has spurred the growth of distance learning which gives millions of people who lack the time or resources to attend traditional colleges domestically or overseas, the chance to pursue education qualifications at their own pace.

To appreciate the importance the new computer-aided communication can have, one must consider the dynamics of "critical mass," as it applies to cooperation in creative endeavor. Take any problem worthy of the name, and you find only a few people who can contribute effectively to its solution. Those people must be brought into close intellectual partnership so that their ideas can come into contact with one another. But bring these people together physically in one place to form a team, and you have trouble, for the most creative people are often not the best team players, and there are not enough top positions in a single organization to keep them all happy. Let them go their separate ways, and each creates his own empire, large or small, and devotes more time to the role of emperor than to the role of problem solver. The principals still get together at meetings. They still visit one another. But the time scale of their communication stretches out, and the correlations among mental models degenerate between meetings so that it may take a year to do a week's communicating. There has to be some way of facilitating communication among people and bringing them together in one place without physically coming together.

So far the government has realized substantial benefits from the usage of internet in the process of transforming agricultural based economy into the knowledge based economy. The potential of internet should not be undermined. However, the barrier has been the high cost of broadband connectivity for developing countries.