Digital divide & its prevention
- Digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the world. Digital dividends—the broader development benefits from using these technologies have lagged behind.
- In many instances digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery.
- Yet their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed.
- For digital technologies to benefi t everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in internet access.
- But greater digital adoption will not be enough.
- To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on the “analog complements”—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable
- The term digital divide describes the discrepancy between people who have access to and the resources to use new information and communication tools, such as the Internet, and people who do not have the resources and access to the technology.
- The term also describes the discrepancy between those who have the skills, knowledge and abilities to use the technologies and those who do not.
- The digital divide can exist between those living in rural areas and those living in urban areas, between the educated and uneducated, between economic classes, and on a global scale between more and less industrially developed nations
Determinants of Digital Divide in India
- As India is a multicultural, multi-language and multi-religion country with complex socio-economic conditions, there are six main difficulties in serving rural communities, each one of which has appeared insurmountable: poverty, unemployment, age and education.
- There is huge gap of digital divide between rural and urban India where growth is biased in favour of urban areas; according to statistics, more than 75 per cent of the broadband connections in the country are in the top 30 cities
- Some States are not able to adopt even one technology but others have adopted very efficiently.
- It is not just about people who have access and those that do not; it is not just about haves and have-nots especially those who can communicate with the rest of the world and those that cannot.
- Another important reason of digital divide in India is knowledge divide. Knowledge divide is directly related with digital divide.
- Internet use is primarily associated with a large section of the English-knowing urban population.
- Added to these, the growing population, insufficient funds, affordability, and delays in implementation of government policies and programmes have been some of the challenges that have led to unequal development in the society, which is responsible for digital divide.
The dividends: Growth, jobs, and service delivery
- The benefits of digital technologies filter throughout the economy.
- For businesses, the internet promotes inclusion of firms in the world economy by expanding trade, raises the productivity of capital, and intensifies competition in the marketplace, which in turn induces innovation.
- It brings opportunities to households by creating jobs, leverages human capital, and produces consumer surplus. It enables citizens to access public services, strengthens government capability, and serves as a platform for citizens to tackle collective action problems.
- These benefits are neither automatic nor assured, but in numerous instances digital technologies can bring significant gains.
Challenges and Barriers to Bridging the Digital Divide
- Infrastructural barriers: India still lacks a robust telecommunication infrastructure with sufficient reliable bandwidth for Internet connection
- Literacy and skill barriers: Education in information literacy will play an important role in keeping the society from fragmenting into a population of information haves and have–nots. The lack of skill in using computer and communication technology also prevents people from accessing digital information.
- Economic barriers: Poor access to computer and communication technology also causes a digital divide. In India the ability to purchase or rent the tool for access to digital information is less among the masses.
- Content barriers: To solve the digital divide, steps should be taken by the government to ensure that all citizens are able to receive diverse content relevant to their lives as well as to produce their own content for their communities and for the Internet.
- Language barriers: Having a multicultural and multilingual population, today a large percentage of information content on the Internet is in English, which is a barrier for the people whose primary language is not English.
The risks: Concentration, inequality, and control
- When the internet delivers scale economies for fi rms but the business environment inhibits competition, the outcome could be excessive concentration of market power and rise of monopolies, inhibiting future innovation.
- When the internet automates many tasks but workers do not possess the skills that technology augments, the outcome will be greater inequality, rather than greater effi ciency.
- When the internet helps overcome information barriers that impede service delivery but governments remain unaccountable, the outcome will be greater control, rather than greater empowerment and inclusion.
What need to be done to bridge Digital Devide?
- Regulations that promote competition and entry
- Lower the barriers to digital adoption
- Increase competition through eff ective regulation and enforcement
- Skills for the digital economy
- Start early with foundational skills
- Rethink curricula and teaching methods
- Develop advanced technological skills and encourage lifelong learning
- Institutions that are accountable to citizens
- Strengthen e-government delivery and citizen engagement
- Improve informational services and monitoring
- Deepen collaboration and participatory policy making
Three Policies that should be followed by Government/Country
- A business environment where firms can leverage the internet to compete and innovate for the benefit of consumers
- Workers, entrepreneurs, and public servants who have the right skills to take advantage of opportunities in the digital world
- An accountable government that effectively uses the internet to empower its citizens and deliver services
Policy/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.
- Steps are being taken to fulfil Universal Service Obligation (USO), funding, and administration.
- The government allowed Mobile number portability (MNP) which enables mobile telephone users to retain their mobile telephone numbers when changing from one mobile network operator to another.
- National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh (200,000) gram panchayats of India by 2016
Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan’ for covering 6 crore rural households
- The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved ‘Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan’ (PMGDISHA) to make 6 crore rural households digitally literate. The outlay for this project is Rs.2,351.38 crore to usher in digital literacy in rural India by March,.2019. This is in line with the announcement made by Finance Minister in the Union Budget 2016-17.
- PMGDISHA is expected to be one of the largest digital literacy programmes in the world. Under the scheme, 25 lakh candidates will be trained in the FY 2016-17; 275 lakh in the FY 2017-18; and 300 lakh in the FY 2018-19. To ensure equitable geographical reach, each of the 250,000 Gram Panchayats would be expected to register an average of 200-300 candidates.
- Digitally literate persons would be able to operate computers/digital access devices (like tablets, smart phones, etc.), send and receive emails, browse internet, access Government Services, search for information, undertaking cashless transactions, etc. and hence use IT to actively participate in the process of nation building.
- The implementation of the Scheme would be carried out under the overall supervision of Ministry of Electronics and IT in active collaboration with States/UTs through their designated State Implementing Agencies, District e-Governance Society (DeGS), etc.
State Government Services
- Sourkaryan and E–Seva: Project of the government of Andhra Pradesh is now operational in the port city of Visakhapatnam, provides the facility for a citizen to pay property taxes online and also view details of plans and projects of the government and local bodies.
- The Bhoomi Project of Karnataka state covers 6.7 million farmers and holds millions of records of land ownership. The project has earned the goodwill of many people and also international funding agencies.
- The Gyandoot Project: 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. Every village has a computer centre or “soochnalayas” at prominent market places or major roads. People can easily log in and complain or request information on crops, forest fields, water resources, etc. of the district.
- Role of community information centres: The central and state governments of India, especially the Ministry of Information Technology, have taken a step known as rural electronic libraries. The project has been started in Sikkim and North Eastern states of India to provide IT facility in each and every block. Each CIC will have one server computer system and five client configuration computer systems linked in a local area network and connected to a V–SAT for Internet access.
- Microsoft’s community technology skills programme, which was launched in 2004 in India and 2005 in Chennai, focuses on providing access to technology and employment. Their new programme ‘Youth Spark’, which will focus on holistic education and developing entrepreneurship skills
- National Science Digital Library (NSDL): The National Science Digital Library Project was conceived by the government to provide cheaper access to science and technology books to students. NSDL is a facility planned to provide focused content to undergraduate and higher–level students.
- 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.
- It aims to bring about one million digital books to the doorsteps of common citizens. The Internet–enabled digital library will promote literacy.
- It will make use of a mobile van with satellite Internet connections. The van will be fitted with printers, scanners, cutters and binding machines for providing books in bound form to end users.
- Unnati Project
- Unnati, is a project of the 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 an access to computer education
- The project provides for supply of five computers for each school. The HPCL will draft the services of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) for imparting training to the students and even the teachers in computer operation.
Role of academic and research institutions
- IIT Karagpur designed a project to “bridge the communication gap between the sightless and the sighted.” The project has enabled the blind to surf the Internet, read text in Indian languages and even take up normal office work. A software IIT Webel has been developed to translate Braille into plain English.
- Telemedicine system must be expanded and designed to be more user–friendly and economical. What is needed is to bring awareness among people about telemedicine and telehealth and their advantages.
- The Azim Premji Foundation has been involved with universalization of elementary education by creating effective and scaleable models to improve the quality of learning in school.
- Tata Council of Community Initiatives, are playing an important role in promoting adult education in the country. The council has extended several innovative computer–based literacy programs to improve India’s adult education by preparing multimedia presentations.
- The unequal access to information and communication technologies has led to the digital divide though India has made encouraging efforts to bridge the gap by initiating a number of projects and programmes for rural and remote locations, a strong determination among people, good policy–makers and political support is also required to bridge the digital divide.
- The country needs to improve the infrastructure of public libraries and link them with community information centres.
Bridging the disability divide through digital technologies
- Over 1 billion people around the world have disabilities, and 80 percent of them live in developing countries.
- Persons with disabilities face barriers to communicate, interact, access information, and participate in civic activities. Digital technologies are helping overcome some of these barriers.
- Technology enables multiple means of communication—voice, text, and gestures—to access information and engage with others. Voice recognition, magnification, and text-to-speech functionality benefit persons with visual, cognitive, learning, and mobility disabilities.
- Short message service (SMS), instant messaging, telephone relay, and video captions reduce communication barriers for persons with hearing and speech disabilities. Hands-free navigation and gesture-controlled interfaces assist persons with severe mobility impairments in using digital devices.
- But the mere existence of technology is an insufficient condition to bridge the gaps in the socioeconomic inclusion of persons with disabilities.
- A supportive ecosystem is needed to drive the implementation of accessible digital technologies.
Conclusion- Reaping digital dividends for everyone
- Digital technologies are transforming the worlds of business, work, and service delivery. These advances are making the leading parts of the economy and society more productive—even as many still wait for the most basic benefi ts of the digital revolution.
- To ensure that everyone will reap the dividends of the internet, focusing on access to technology is essential but far from suffi cient. Why? Because technology needs to be complemented by improvements in areas that determine whether fi rms, people, and governments can make effective use of new digital tools.
- The analog foundation cannot be strengthened overnight. It requires overcoming some of the most protracted development challenges: how to create an environment for firms to thrive, how to build effective education and training systems, and how to make service providers more responsive to citizens. The stakes are high, because the digital revolution leaves behind countries that do not make the necessary reforms.
- For those that do, technology investments will produce ample digital dividends, and these dividends will be widely shared among all stakeholders