As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has swept South Asia in recent months, existing inequalities have come to light. One aspect stands out: access to technology has never been so crucial to ensuring public health and safety.
Around the world, information and access to health care have largely moved online, and those left behind face grave disadvantages.
GS-II: Social Justice (Issues Related to Women, Poverty related issues), GS-I: Indian Society, GS-III: Science and Technology
Dimensions of the Article:
- Introduction to internet in India
- Increase in Internet Usage in India Post 2017
- Limited or no access to women
- Limited or no access to the poor
- What are the implications of the digital divide?
- Steps taken by the Government to reduce the internet usage gap
- Way forward
Introduction to internet in India
- The internet was first used in India in 1980s, but was available to a limited educational and research community.
- It was thrown open to public use for the first time on India’s 49th Independence Day in 1995.
- Internet is now at the core of the communication network – there are more than 700 million internet subscribers in India – but there is still a significant population not connected to the internet.
- The number of internet users in India has grown significantly in recent years, according to data compiled by the World Bank.
- It was almost seven years after the internet was first thrown open to the public that more than 1% of India’s population used the internet.
- But then, in just six years, the share of the population using the internet grew by almost 25 percentage points – to 34% in 2017.
- To contrast – Globally, 50% people used the internet in 2017, and the figure is much higher in developed countries – 87%.
Increase in Internet Usage in India Post 2017
- Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) shows that the internet has penetrated even deeper into the society after 2017.
- Internet subscribers per 100 people in India has grown by 20 percentage points in just two years since 2017.
- Mobile telecom networks have played an important role in increasing internet access in India.
- 3G internet service was first launched in 2008 and 4G in 2012, and after this between 2013 and 2019, there was a 68% increase in the number of wireless internet users.
Limited or no access to women
- According to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) estimates, over 390 million women in low- and middle-income countries do not have Internet access. South Asia has more than half of these women with only 65% owning a mobile phone.
- In India, less than 15% of women were reported to be using the Internet. This divide is deepened by earlier mandates to register online to get a vaccination appointment.
- Recent local data revealed that nearly 17% more men than women have been vaccinated.
- While improving awareness of how to access vaccination and help are crucial to protecting women, the mindset around digital technology and device ownership must also change. – In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, for example, fewer women than men received the necessary information to survive COVID-19 and men and boys are thus more likely to get timely information and register than women and girls.
- In the App Store, there are about two million apps, most of which cater to young men.
- When families share a digital device, it is more likely that the father or sons will be allowed to use it exclusively. In part, this is due to deeply held cultural beliefs: it is often believed that women’s access to technology will motivate them to challenge patriarchal societies. There is also a belief that women need to be protected, and that online content can be dangerous for women/expose them to risks. As a consequence, girls and women who ask for phones face suspicion and opposition.
Limited or no access to the poor
- Even as the number of internet users has been growing rapidly, there is still a large population with no access to the internet – particularly in rural areas, poorer states and in poorer households.
- Internet usage also varies significantly with class and gender.
- National Statistical Office survey on consumption of education services in India shows that nearly 24% households in the country had access to the internet in 2017-18 and this figure increased with increasing monthly per capita expenditure of households.
- Another survey finding shows that 40% people in the age group of 15 to 29 years were able to use the internet, but this figure was 48% among men and 32% among women, a gap of 16 percentage points.
- In urban areas, there are more than 100 internet subscribers per 100 people (as in one person has more than 1 connection, so the number is greater than population) in 12 telecom circles, but in rural areas, this figure is less than 60 in all circles except the rural parts of Delhi.
What are the implications of the digital divide?
- Political: In the age of social media, political empowerment and mobilization are difficult without digital connectivity.
- Governance: Transparency and accountability are dependent on digital connectivity. The digital divide affects e-governance initiatives negatively.
- Social: 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.
- Economic: The digital divide causes economic inequality between those who can afford the technology and those who don’t.
- Educational: The digital divide is also impacting the capacity of children to learn and develop. Without Internet access, students cannot build the required tech skills.
Steps taken by the Government to reduce the internet usage gap
- 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.
- According to GSMA, closing the gender gap in mobile Internet usage in low- and middle-income countries would increase GDP by U.S.$700 billion over the next five years. Women and girls are the largest consumer groups left out of technology and could be major profit drivers.
- We now have the opportunity to shape our future in a way that is more equal, diverse, and sustainable in the world of technology in the aftermath of the medical and socioeconomic devastation in 2020.
- Bringing an end to the gender technology gap will save lives and make livelihoods more secure.
-Source: The Hindu