From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not Much
Mains level : Digital divide in India
The COVID-19 induced lockdown highlights India’s great digital divide.
Practice question for mains:
Q.What are the various facets of Digital Divide in India? Discuss how the Digital India initiative has impacted ruling out India’s digital divide?
What is Digital divide?
A digital divide is any uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of information and communications technologies between any number of distinct groups, which can be defined based on social, geographical, or geopolitical criteria, or otherwise
What are the implications of the digital divide?
In the age of social media, political empowerment and mobilization are difficult without digital connectivity.
Transparency and accountability are dependent on digital connectivity. The digital divide affects e-governance initiatives negatively.
Internet penetration is associated with greater social progress of a nation. Thus digital divide in a way hinders the social progress of a country.
Rural India is suffering from information poverty due to the digital divide. It only strengthens the vicious cycle of poverty, deprivation, and backwardness.
The digital divide causes economic inequality between those who can afford the technology and those who don’t.
The digital divide is also impacting the capacity of children to learn and develop.
Without Internet access, students can not build the required tech skills.
Facets of the great Digital Divide in India
- Education is just one area that has highlighted the digital divide between India’s rural and urban areas during the lockdown.
- The trend is evident everywhere — telemedicine, banking, e-commerce, e-governance, all of which became accessible only via the internet during the lockdown.
- The divide exists despite the rise in the number of wireless subscribers in India over the past few years.
1) Telecom facility, not digital progression
- According to a report released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on June this year, the country had over 1,160 million wireless subscribers in February 2020, up from 1,010 million in February 2016.
- This is a rise of 150 million subscribers in five years or 30 million per year.
- The growth has been evenly distributed in urban and rural areas, with the number of urban subscribers increasing by 74 million (from 579 million to 643 million) and rural subscribers by 86 million (from 431 million to 517 million).
- But this growth only indicates the rise in basic telecommunication facility.
2) The Urban-Rural Divide
- Services such as online classrooms, financial transactions and e-governance require access to the internet as well as the ability to operate internet-enabled devices like phones, tablets and computers.
- Here the urban-rural distinction is quite stark.
- According to the NSSO conducted between July 2017 and June 2018, just 4.4 rural households have a computer, against 14.4 per cent in an urban area.
- It had just 14.9 per cent rural households having access to the internet against 42 per cent households in urban areas.
- Similarly, only 13 per cent people of over five years of age in rural areas have the ability to use the internet against 37 per cent in urban areas.
3) Regional Divide
- States too greatly differ in terms of people that have access to computers or in the know-how to use the internet.
- Himachal Pradesh leads the country in access to the internet in both, rural and urban areas.
- Uttarakhand has the most number of computers in urban areas, while Kerala has the most number of computers in rural areas.
- Overall, Kerala is the state where the difference between rural and urban areas is the least.
4) Digital Gender Divide
- India has among the world’s highest gender gap in access to technology.
- Only 21 per cent of women in India are mobile internet users, according to GSMA’s 2020 mobile gender gap report, while 42 per cent of men have access. The report says that while 79 per cent of men own a mobile phone in the country, the number for women is 63 per cent.
- While there do economic barriers to girls’ own a mobile phone or laptop, cultural and social norms also play a major part.
- The male-female gap in mobile use often exacerbates other inequalities for women, including access to information, economic opportunities, and networking.
- The earning member of the family has to carry the phone while going out to work.
- Access to phones and the internet is not just an economic factor but also social and cultural.
- If one family has just one phone, there is a good chance that the wife or the daughter will be the last one to use it.
Programmes for Addressing the Challenges in Bridging the Digital Divide:
India taking significant steps towards acquiring competence in information and technology, the country is increasingly getting divided between people who have access to technology and those who do not.
- The Indian government has passed Information Technology Act, 2000 to make to e- commerce and e-governance a success story in India along with national e-governance plan.
- Optical Fibre Network (NOF-N), a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh (200,000) gram panchayats of India by 2016.
- Digital Mobile Library: In order to bridge the digital divide in a larger way the government of India, in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Computing (C–DAC) based in Pune.
- Unnati, is a project of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) which strives to bridge the digital divide in schools by giving the rural students with poor economic and social background access to computer education.
- E-pathshala: to avail study materials for every rural and urban student.
- Common Service Centres: which enabled the digital reach to unreachable areas.
Initiatives of State Government:
- Sourkaryan and E–Seva: Project of the government of Andhra Pradesh to provides the facility for a citizen to pay property taxes online.
- The Gyandoot Project: It is the first ever project in India for a rural information network in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh which has the highest percentage of tribes and dense forest. The project was designed to extend the benefits of information technology to people in rural areas by directly linking the government and villagers through information kiosks
The promotion of indigenous ICT development under Atmanirbhar Abhiyan can play a significant role. The promotion of budget mobile phones is the key.
The creation of market competition between service providers may make services cheaper.
Efficient spectrum allocation in large contiguous blocks should be
We should also explore migration to new technologies like 5G. It would resolve some of the bandwidth challenges.
Digital literacy needs special attention at the school / college level.
The National Digital Literacy Mission should focus on introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for basic content and in higher classes and colleges for advanced content.
When these students will educate their family members, it will create multiplier effects. Higher digital literacy will also increase the adoption of computer hardware across the country.
State governments should pay particular attention to content creation in the Indian regional languages, particularly those related to government services.
Natural language processing ( NLP) in Indian languages needs to be promoted.
4.Role of regulators
Regulators should minimize entry barriers by reforming licensing, taxation, spectrum allocation norms.
TRAI should consider putting in place a credible system. This system will track call drops, weak signals, and outages. It ensures the quality and reliability of telecom services.
MeitY will need to evolve a comprehensive cybersecurity framework for data security, safe digital transactions, and complaint redressal.
The government should also set up telecom ombudsman for the redress of grievances.
- The Standing Committee on Information Technology in January 2019 concluded that the digital literacy efforts of the government are far from satisfactory.
- Clearly, internet penetration is not deep enough. At one level, we all recognise that the internet has become indispensable.
- On another level, it still doesn’t have adequate attention of the decision-makers.
- The most crucial need of the hour is to ensure uninterrupted internet services.
Back2Basics: Digital India Initiatives
- Over the past decade, governments have been trying to improve internet access in the country.
- In 2011, the BharatNet project was launched to connect 0.25 million panchayats through an optical fibre (100 MBPS) and connect India’s villages. Its implementation began only in 2014.
- In 2014, the government launched the National Digital Literacy Mission and the Digital Saksharta Abhiyan.
- In 2015, the government launched several schemes under its Digital India campaign to connect the entire country.
- This includes the PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, launched in 2017, to usher in digital literacy in rural India by covering 60 million households.