Community radio: at the mercy of a shoddy website

Here we are, at the receiving end of a Letter of Intent from the Ministry of Communications informing us that they were considering the possibility of bestowing upon us a community radio license for Gurgaon. Cheers went around, and we then gleefully typed up the URL that we had been asked to visit to register online (http://www.wpc.dot.gov.in/). There was no offline option. A diktat had been passed – all applications had to be done online, followed by the printed version being sent off to the Ministry. Cool. This did not sound too difficult. Except that for the first one hour, the URL just refused to open. Then, suddenly it did. What we had before us was a home page with no links. None. There was a search box on the left, a stream of alert crawling up the bottom half of the page, and some “About US” kind of matter giving us the raison ‘d etre of the Wireless and Planning Wing (WPC) of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (Department of Telecommunications). Very interesting I’m sure except that we just could not figure out where to go for our online application. Us! An NGO that is supported by a fully-functional tech team! In desperation I called up the officer who had issued us the letter. He sounded nice, sympathetic even. He put me in touch with CEMCA (Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia) which is working as a kind of nodal agency coordinating between NGOs and all the various departments and ministries involved in the gargantuan task of giving licenses for community radio. The CEMCA folks were extremely helpful, and obviously had received plenty of calls for help from other applicants. They promptly took over, filed our application, sent us the sample documents, and pretty much hand-held us till all the paperwork was done.

Or so we thought. Just when we were feeling that any day now the ministry would send us our frequency allocation, we get a letter saying they need a copy of our online application. How do you apply again – we’d done it the first time, or else our file wouldn’t be complete right? Again, back to the WPC site, which still does not give me a clue about where to go. Or even what to look for. So, tomorrow, I pick up the phone and call a very helpful gentleman at WPC and ask him to help me through this round.

That’s the funny thing – everyone is SO helpful, and nice, and courteous, and understanding. So, which idiot designed the WPC website? Frankly they ought to be fired. Have they never heard of the phrases “user interface”, “user-friendliness” or “usability”.

If we, as an urban NGO, can find this process so bewildering, then I feel really sorry for the NGOs that are more rural and with lesser access to technology.

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