Digital Divide in India

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced lockdowns last year, services from banking and schooling to medical consultations and job searches moved online, and in some cases remain there even a year later. Many companies now see “work from home” as the new normal. Still we see that for a country as huge as India, only some have the privilege to access the ‘data services’.

India’s digital divide remains huge as 400 million people still do not have access to the internet. Some factors of this divide are:

• Spatial digital divide:

We see that the population in rural areas is often less than that in urban cities. As a result, the infrastructural growth is more in urban regions due to obvious benefits (for example more work force, better job/corporate opportunities).

• Gender divide:

We see that fewer women have access to smartphones as compared to men. This has lead to a slow growth rate in India’s digital literacy.

This digital divide is expected to worsen in the future with the onset of the new digital revolution, which is in AI, and which will unleash a bigger wave of digital change. Unfortunately, most developing countries, including India, lack the investments to benefit from the new digital revolution.

Moreover, the pandemic has exacerbated the country’s digital without- the gap between those with the means and knowledge to benefit from the internet, and those without  worsening already stark levels of inequality and weighing on economic growth. While the divide isn’t unique to India, it’s especially acute in a nation where more than half the population of 1.3 billion people is under 25 years old.

Before the pandemic, government researchers estimated India’s digital shift could unlock as much as $1 trillion of economic value over five years. But the crisis is spreading those benefits unevenly and widening socio-economic inequalities, with girls suffering more than boys and rural areas more affected than cities.

While the Industrial Revolution was a marathon run, the digital revolution is turning out to be a sprint.

So suggested programs to address the situation are:

• Optical Fibre Network (NOF-N), 2016

This is a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh gram panchayats of India. So far, only some targets have been achieved and some areas still face lack of connectivity.

• E-Pathshala

This scheme was launched to provide study materials  every student from both- rural and urban backgrounds.

• Regulators

This capital investment tracks call drops, weak signals and outages. It ensures the quality and reliability of telecom services.

• Digital literacy

There’s a dire need to promote the learning of basics of technology and AI (aka digital literacy).

The increasing share of the tech sector in India’s GDP is a major proof of how imperatives these measures are. The importance of global digital collaboration has become greater following Covid-19, which has shown how interconnected we have become as a global society.

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