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Informing citizens about natural disasters (e.g. floods) or man-made hazards (such as toxic leakages) to mobilize their support and involvement with the community became crucial in the India after damaging floods in Surat in 2002, Indian Ocean T-Sunami in 2004 etc. left losses in Billions Of Rupees in their wake.
Rural areas and smaller towns in this Asian Country operate a network of street loudspeakers from the 70s or 80s. They are expensive to maintain and operate, not always effective and are not well-accepted by citizens. They were found to be no longer suitable and municipalities began to search for new alternatives. Technical solutions were sought by municipalities to enable immediate access to citizens to inform them in real time of developments. Occasionally, municipalities wanted to selectively inform citizens about planned construction or civic activities affecting them in their neighbourhood (e.g. to construct, crop trees, rebuild municipal monuments, rename existing streets) and to consult with inhabitants before officially announcing them to the general public. This was important in order to minimise potential negative attitudes and public dissatisfaction after the intentions were announced.
The municipalities were looking not only for a one-way information channel, but rather an interactive mechanism that would enable them to evaluate public opinions. Other important considerations were price-sensitivity from the municipalities' perspective and minimal cost and effort from the citizen's point of view.
About a hundred of the 6400 municipalities across the country are testing SMS as the solution to their problem. A PC-based solution enables municipal officers to accept SMS queries from citizens, send targeted messages to distinct user groups and conduct SMS surveys among citizens. Messages can be generated at the rate of 10 per second via Internet through the SMS centers of all mobile operators (Vodafone, Airtel, Idea, Spice, Reliance, Tata-Indicom etc.) in the India. The central messaging server, which sits between the mobile operators' SMS server and the municipalities' PCs, is offered by local enterprises like Web Projects based in Prague, and is located at the central exchange of a telecom operator.
Environment and Context
India is a Big country of approximately 11 Billion Population. Relatively high density and economic potential allow for large number of mobile users.It is one of three countries in the Asian region where mobile penetration has surpassed fixed penetration. SMS messaging is a popular phenomenon with billions of messages sent per year over all mobile networks, operating in the Czech Republic. Sending a text message is no longer limited to teenagers, but considerably used also by the elderly, needing to be in contact with their family relatives. In comparison with other means of communication, a text message is the cheapest alternative: approximately 30 to 50 Paisa per SMS .
Details of Service Offerings
Service offerings vary from supplier to supplier. Some third party suppliers connect directly to one or two mobile operators, rather than using the telecom operator. In other cases, aggregation of municipal traffic with business SMS traffic has reduced the cost of each text message to 20 to 30 Paisa. Tiny municipalities or ad-hoc event organizers without Internet connection can also generate messages through a PC or laptop connected to a mobile phone. All sent messages are archived in order to track history of communication with individual citizens.
WebSMS Manager includes three integrated modules:
Mobile Mail - a basic module for incoming/outgoing messages with automated rule for handling messages, e.g. monitoring of deadlines, automated forwarding and responding
Mobile Information Channel [Groups] - enables creation of user groups for mass SMS sending e.g. in case of crisis, contact database management includes name, phone number, address and notes items and
Mobile Information Channel [CSV Files] - enables to send bulk messages by using CSV [Comma Separated Value] files are files contains contact details of users in a Comma Separated manner & this files are maintained by all the Mobile Operators.
Benefits to Community
Citizens can be in much closer contact with their municipalities through direct SMS facility by receiving all the upcoming Municipal actions or Natural Disasters. Having captured a database of registered citizens with specific interests, upon their request, municipal officers can, in turn, send a response not only via SMS, but also via standard letter or e-mail.
In times of crisis, informing citizens in rural areas by SMS is being recognized as being more convenient and efficient than relying on message distribution through the ageing street loudspeaker network.
Simple, structured SMS messages can enable citizens to cooperate more closely with municipalities to co-influence urban and rural development in they live in. The effort and cost of voting for citizens is minimal (50 Paisa). The costs for municipalities are negligible in comparison with the paraphernalia of traditional referendum and the time needed to organize it.
Future Outlook for Success
In the near future, citizens should be treated as valued customers of municipalities, offering individualised and customised services through mobile communication channels. Having access to official information and communication in pocket when travelling or just being out of office or home is a great challenge to municipalities world-wide.
Applicability and Replicability
Widespread mobile communication, price of text messages and the popularity of SMS messaging over GSM networks all over the world are a solid basis for future growth and successful take-up. Text messages also have a great potential in automated location-based warning systems, informing all the citizens in given area about imminent danger. Not to mention official voting procedures with basic trials, already conducted in the UK.
However, early results show that while, in large cities, one-way messaging from municipality to citizen or ad hoc questions from citizen to municipality are easily managed, alternatives have to be sought for referendums, which could potentially involve hundreds of thousands or even millions of messages.
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