RFC - FOSS United Letter to TN Government on FOSS Policy

Our good friends at Internet Freedom Foundation have helped us connect to folks in the Tamil Nadu government. So far, we have been working with the central government on FOSS Policy issues. This outreach to the TN Government marks the first time that we are reaching out to a state government on FOSS Policy issues. I am requesting policy enthusiasts in the FOSS United community send in their comments on this letter by the end of this week. I aim to send this letter out to the TN folks on Monday 21st November.

In drafting this letter, we reviewed the TN Industrial Policy and the TN R&D Policy, and tailored our message accordingly.

Comments/suggestions welcome.

Venky

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To,

Shri (Dr.) D. Ravikumar,
Lok Sabha Member of Parliament for Viluppuram, Tamil Nadu.

Date: (To be finalized)

Subject: Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Policy for Tamil Nadu

Dear Sir,

  1. FOSS United Foundation is a registered non-profit founded in 2020, dedicated to the cause of building Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) projects and communities in India. The foundation aims to provide grassroots support to FOSS projects and events, and evolve into a community-industry collaboration with a diverse group of members and patrons. The foundation’s goals are:
  • To enable and evangelise the use of FOSS in academia, social sector, industry and government.
  • To promote the spirit of hacking and tinkering.
  • To build quality FOSS for public good.
  1. We note with sincere appreciation the strides that Tamil Nadu has made in the industrial and IT sectors, and its intention to, “Make Tamil Nadu the numero uno destination to invest, innovate and create products and associated services.” We have reviewed your industrial policy and your R&D policies and feel that a policy/guidelines on FOSS in Tamil Nadu will help your state’s enterprises and government agencies promote innovation, reduce costs, grow TN’s startup ecosystem, and encourage skill development and capacity building. In the next sections, we elaborate on these points.

  2. Encouraging Innovation: Most emerging technologies like AI/ML are built as FOSS. Fifteen years ago the proprietary model of software development, where one company built and marketed a software program was the norm. However, the growth of the Internet led to the rise of Collaborative Innovation and decentralised software development. FOSS licences enabled communities to converge online and collaborate to build technologies together. Today, such collaborative development has replaced proprietary software development as the “new normal.” From microprocessors to mobile phones, every technology has some element of FOSS inside it. FOSS enables all the emerging technologies that underpin Industry 4.0 like enhanced computational power, Internet of Things (IoT), business analytics, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, elemental design, simulation, advanced robotics, additive manufacturing, and sensor based technologies. Therefore, state policies that encourage FOSS will have a broad ranging impact on innovation in TN.

  3. Reducing Costs: FOSS has helped Indian enterprises and government agencies reduce software acquisition costs and stretch every rupee to the maximum possible extent. The money saved by using FOSS helps organisations invest more money into other critical areas. India has implemented population scale IT projects like Aadhaar, UPI, GST, CoWin and others at costs that are far lower than other countries around the world, thanks to adroit use of FOSS. Encouraging skills development around FOSS, and the growth of companies that help TN based organisations implement FOSS will help bring down technology costs across the board.

  4. Growing TN’s startup ecosystem: We note in TN’s R&D policy that Tamil Nadu Start-up and Innovation Mission (TANSIM) has set an ambitious target to establish approximately 10,000 start-ups in Tamil Nadu by 2026. We also note that Tamil Nadu Technology Hub (iTNT) is building India’s first DeepTech Innovation Network connected to the world and plans to solve complex challenges in different sectors, such as agriculture, health, or education, using emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics, and blockchain. FOSS is the bedrock on which all these emerging technologies are being built. Therefore, encouraging a FOSS ecosystem in TN will have a direct impact on the growth of startups in TN.

  5. Encouraging skill development and capacity building: As we mentioned earlier, almost all emerging information technologies are being built as FOSS. Availability of talent is a foundational requirement for global R&D centres, Global Captive Centres (GCCs), Software Development Centres (SDCs), startups and others. Without availability of talent, fiscal incentives alone may not make a state attractive as an investment destination. FOSS skills are some of the most sought after skills in IT today, to the extent that some Indian blockchain startups are hiring talent from countries like Romania and others. Therefore, scaling up FOSS skills development and capacity building would help TN attract organisations that are at the cutting edge of technologies.

  6. FOSS United recommends that the TN Government set up a FOSS program office that coordinates closely with TANSIM, iTNT, and other programs to enable skills development, capacity building, deployment of FOSS in Government and coordination with academic institutions to make TN a FOSS leader in India and the world. At FOSS United we are happy to extend our support for TN Government’s initiatives for attaining leadership in FOSS technologies.

Venkatesh Hariharan
Public Policy Director
FOSS United

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Hello from Tamil Nadu
I am excited that you are working to bring more FOSS to TN and its Government. :slight_smile:

Here are my comments on the above letter:
(please note: I am new to writing/reading communications to Gov. So if any of my points don’t make sense, please say so.)

  1. Using FOSS technologies to build various gov services is already becoming common practice for most new projects. Shouldn’t we push for the software being developed by the government to remain FOSS?

    • This could be an opportunity to explain the benefits of keeping the software being developed as FOSS:
      • helps to recruit better talent as they have the opportunity to showcase their work to the world
      • motivates to write better code since it is open to be reviewed by anyone
      • help from the community to fix issues (nothing like it when your users are also fixing your application)
      • other governments and organizations from across the country and globe may start using it and assist in the application being developed further
        • the idea is that collaborative FOSS development from across various teams has the potential to yield much better software as compared to one developed by any single organization (this point kind of already mentioned in the letter)
        • the domination of Linux is one easy example to point out. Microsoft’s Desktop and Server Operating Systems are beginning to have Linux included in them.
    • You could also point to a recent example of the covid19india.org website that was built in the open. It has 185 individual code contributors and the website was stunning and had the most accurate and updated information during the covid lockdown.
  2. There is only one actionable point (point 7) in the letter. FOSS United should have a solid list of actionable recommendations based on what has worked for others (or) what we think will work for a particular government (If not for this letter, in future letters at least).

    • I think the easier we make it for the government, the faster FOSS United can accomplish its goal.
    • For this letter, is it worth mentioning the model Kerala is following with ICFOSS since 2009? I heard that they have a small budget (5-6Cr) but they are having a big impact.
  3. Since we are writing to “Shri (Dr.) D. Ravikumar” directly, I thought some personal touch would help in persuasion.

    • For Example: (according to this article) We could appreciate him for pushing the e-waste policy for TN. Also, he seems highly motivated to help farmers. We could mention how FOSS could help lower the barrier to accessing technology for farmers and FPOs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpNBVK-rCWk).
  4. My understanding is that we should be writing to an MLA or State Minister. Is it within the power of an MP to make state-level policy changes?

  5. Just one last suggestion. If it makes sense, can you reorder the contents of the letter as below?

    • Start with why we are doing this, or why the government should do this.
    • Then move on to the How? i.e. Our recommendation of what can be done.
    • Then the What? i.e. what is FOSS United and what do we do and all?
    • essentially it is this idea. Again this one may be a personal choice, so, please ignore if this idea does not resonate with you.

Edit: I am aware that you are aiming to send this letter today. Sorry for the last minute comment on this letter.

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Excellent suggestions, Karthikeyan. On #4, The MP is a progressive politician and we are reaching out to him to make the right introductions in the TN Government. We could reach out directly to the TN Government too, but a warm intro is always better. This letter is only the starting point. Once we have a discussion with the TN Government’s IT team, we will be submitting detailed recommendations where we can use the Simon Sinek “Start with Why” framework. At that point, we can bring up points 1-3 that you have outlined here.

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FOSS United Tamil Nadu Letter.pdf (75.5 KB)

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