Why this topic?
COVID 19 pandemic has created a strange situation. Schools are closed. Already overburdened health system is collapsing. People can’t go to the office. Banks have restricted many functions. In such a situation, e-learning, e-health, work from home, online banking is crucial. For this, the internet is essential. But countries like India have a deep digital divide.
What is the digital divide?
It is the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and knowledge about it and those who do not. The digital divide can exist between those living in urban areas and those living in rural areas, between the illiterate and literate, between poor and rich, and on a global scale between developed and developing nations.
What are the reasons for the digital divide?
The cost of computers, laptops, mobile phones is prohibitive. Internet data plans are still unaffordable for poor sections of society. Moreover, cheaper options like wi-fi have very low penetration in tier II, tier III cities, and villages.
More than 80% of content on the internet is available in English. It restricts the access of people who lack knowledge of English.
Digital literacy in-country is estimated to be less than 10 percent of the population. It is consistent with literacy. The digital divide is the least in Kerala, the highest in West Bengal.
In patriarchal societies, females are not allowed to use mobile phones. Only 35% of Indian women have access to the internet.
Internet connectivity is completely missing in islands like Andaman and distant mountains of Himalaya. Limited service is available in Northeastern states.
Issues related to quality and reliability, outages, call drops and weak signals affect internet access. The current definition of broadband of 512 kbps speed is inadequate. Also, it is not in line with the expected rise in demand in the future.
Availability of government services
A number of government services are not available on the digital platform. Additionally, there is wide variation across states in the availability of citizen e-services. Presently, citizens have to visit government offices physically to access most government-to-citizen (G2C) services.
Hacking and denial of service attacks have resulted in the disruption of services. It is affecting both in the government and the private sector
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.
Information technology Act, 2000
This act has created the legal infrastructure for digital connectivity and safe internet.
It’s objective is to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
It is Botnet Cleaning and Malware Analysis Center. It aims to create secure cyberspace.
It is an initiative to connect all the Gram panchayats of the country with high-speed internet.
It aims to make 2,50,000 common service centers (CSCs) operational at the gram panchayat level. CSCs will provide government services online. 1,50,000 post
offices will be converted into multi-service centers under this program.
Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyaan (PMGDISHA)
The aim of this scheme is to make six crore people in rural areas, across States/UTs, digitally literate.
National Information Infrastructure (NII)
It will facilitate the integration of the networks and cloud infrastructure. The goal of this integration is to provide high-speed internet to various government departments up to the panchayat level.
- 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.
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.