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Voices Across the Digital Divide - a.k.a. there's plenty of room at the botom

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Arjun Venkatraman

on 31 May 2014

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Transcript of Voices Across the Digital Divide - a.k.a. there's plenty of room at the botom

Use of wireless equipment in the band 26.957 – 27.283 MHz.-
Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force,
no licence shall be required by any person to establish, maintain, work, possess or deal in any wireless equipment intended to be used
while in motion or during halts, on non-interference, non-protection and shared (non-exclusive) basis,
in the frequency band 26.957 – 27.283 MHz
5 Watt Effective Radiated Power
and built-in antenna
GSR No 533 3.
Voice portals
An voice (audio) portal is essentially a website with a lot of audio content that can be accessed both through the Web as well as by phone.

The figure below shows an example of a community moderated voice portal

Legal Inputs
Voices Across the Digital Divide
a.k.a There's plenty of room at the bottom

GR 35 ensures PNJ for citizen band users/developers
Department of Telecommunications, Draft Telecom Policy 2011
GSR 37 (E) and 38 (E) delicensing Indoor and Outdoor use of 5GHZ.

Airwaves are public property and should be used for public good as a scarce natural resource.
The Central Government must adhere to the larger public good in managing the natural resource.
Use of airwaves for mass communication is linked to 2 distinct fundamental rights
Article 19(1)(a) of The Constitution of India - Freedom of speech and expression
Article 19(1)(g) of The Constitution of India - Freedom to choose a business or profession
Licensing as per the restriction clause under Article 19(2) is for the regulation of BOTH the right to freedom of expression (19(1)(a)) as well as the right to choose a business or profession (19(1)(g))

-The CAB v Union of India, Subramaniam Swamy

For the purpose of ensuring the free speech rights of the citizens guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) [of the Indian Constitution], it is not necessary to have private broadcasting stations
, as held by the Constitutional Courts of France and Italy. Allowing private broadcasting would be to open the door for powerful economic, commercial and political interests, which may not prove beneficial to free speech right of the citizens - and certainly so, if strict programme controls and other controls are not prescribed. The analogy with press is wholly inapt.
Above all, airwaves constitute public property
. While, the freedom guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) does include the right to receive and impart information, no one can claim the fundamental right to do so by using or employing public property. Only where the statute permits him to use the public property, then only - and subject to such conditions and restrictions as the law may impose - he can use the public property, viz., airwaves. In other words, Article 19(1)(a) does not enable a citizen to impart his information, views and opinions by using the airwaves. He can do so without using the airwaves. It need not be emphasised that while broadcasting cannot be effected without using airwaves, receiving the broadcast does not involve any such use.

Airwaves, being public property must be utilised to advance public good. Public good lies in ensuring plurality of opinions, views and ideas and that would scarcely be served by private broadcasters, who would be and who are bound to be actuated by profit motive
. There is a far greater likelihood of these private broadcasters indulging in mis- information, disinformation and manipulation of news and views than the government-controlled media, which is at least subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny. The experience in Italy, where the Constitutional Court allowed private broadcasting at the local level while denying it at the national level should serve as a lesson; this limited opening has given rise to giant media oligopolies as mentioned supra. Even with the best of programme controls it may prove counter-productive at the present juncture of our development; the implementation machinery in our country leaves much to be desired which is shown by the ineffectiveness of the several enactments made with the best of the intentions and with most laudable provisions; this is a reality which cannot be ignored. It is true that even if private broadcasting is not allowed from Indian soil, such stations may spring up on the periphery of or outside our territory, catering exclusively to the Indian public.

1995 AIR 1236; 1995 SCC (2) 161; JT 1995 (2) 110; 1995 SCALE (1)539 at para 197
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

Cricket Association Board Bengal and ANR

In Subramaniam Swamy v Union of India [WP (Civil) No. 436/2010] one of the questions that were raised was whether the Government has the right to alienate, transfer or distribute natural resources/national assets otherwise than by following a fair and transparent method consistent with the fundamentals of the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution . The Supreme Court held that the use of this natural resources must be done in accordance to the constitutional mandate. The Supreme Court has also introduced the public trust doctrine to electro-magnetic spectrum. According to this doctrine certain resources like water, air, wind, earth, forests etc are gifts of nature and should be used efficiently for the larger interest of the public and future generations.
9th February 1995
The Wireless and Planning Commission Wing, under the Department of Telecommunication has delicensed certain radio frequencies like 27MHz (Citizen Band Radio) and 5 GHZ wireless.

Subramaniam Swamy v Union of India
Public Trust Doctrine
Public Trust Doctrine:-
According to this doctrine certain resources like water, air, wind, earth, forests etc are gifts of nature and should be used efficiently for the larger interest of the public and future generations. This doctrine, evidently, has its origin in environmental law and the Court have used such a doctrine to direct different private and public entities, like different departments of governmets, to protect natural resources.[ Reliance Natural Resource Ltd. v Reliance Industries Ltd. CIVIL APPEAL NO. 4273 OF 2010 , MC Mehta v Kamal Nath (1997) 1 SCC 388 , In Re: Cauvery Dispute Tribunal AIR 1992 SC 522]

~ 600

people trained
~ 24,000
unique users
~ 3000
~ 1000
published contributors
~ 200,000
calls received,
from Swara
Workshops participants
~ 10,000
posts recorded,
from Swara
Workshops participants
~ 2700
published stories,
from Swara Workshop participants
Call volume

over 2012-2013

What the charts should tell you :
A whopping 90% of the userbase on this voice portal is just listening!!!
The truth about Voice Portals
Why is this a problem?
Because there is a cost of access
What actually happened
What was expected
What was done
Because there is a cost of infrastructure
We're working on reducing the cost of infrastructure by building ultra low cost voice portal gateways
Raspberry Pi -
GSM Gateway -
Pleasure from running a personal voice portal -
When it comes to cost of access, we have to contend with -
Industrial Concerns
Access to Media
Regulatory Concerns
Security Concerns

What we understand all of this to mean

We conform to the channel scheme prescribed in the National Frequency Allocation Table
We can use Citizen Band Radio as a means to extend Voice Portals. provided:
The total radiated power of the transmitter does not exceed 5 watts
(and we would love a second opinion)
Commercially available Citizen Band Radio sets are expensive!
Very few vendors stock CB receivers
We use a
commercial CB transmitter
to ensure we stay within regulatory limits on the transmission side
For the receiver, we modify cheaply available AM/FM sets and kit them out to receive CB Transmissions
(26.9-27.2 Mhz)

The final picture
Raspberry Pi based Hyperlocal, Mobile Accessibe Swara Voice Portals, extended for free listening through localized CB transmissions to low cost CB Receivers
Full transcript