Digital Empowerment For All: Is India Ready To Push The Envelope?

To empower the marginalized communities in India with easy access to digital tools, a wave has already taken off.

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By Aniket Deb

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A news story that made headlines last couple of weeks got me thinking. The approval by FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in America to provide internet subsidy to low income households appeared as a progressive step and the agency's effort to bridge the "digital divide' between the privileged and the non-privileged, commendable.

But something else soon got better of my thought sand in my mind, I began staging our own country in that scenario.If only the underprivileged, in India too, could access the internet as a necessary constituent for critical aspects such as education, job opportunities and health care, our accomplishments as a nation would know no limits.

In developing countries, increased internet penetration has statistically been linked to GDP growth. A 10 per cent increase in a country's broadband connections leads to a 1.38 per cent rise in its gross domestic product, says a World Bank report. Where does India stand along those lines, I questioned. It was the internet again that helped me gauge where we are really headed as a nation.

Roughly 460 million out of India's gigantic population of more than 1.3 billion have access to internet. Even though it accounts for only a 34.8 per cent internet penetration, the number is reassuring. What in fact deserves attention is that only about 115 million among those users hail from the rural side of our country. It is this number, we need to mend.

Amidst monstrous challenges standing in the way, it is heartening to see that the government of India with help from the likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft is indeed making an effort to beat thefigures. To empower the marginalized communities in India with easy access to digital tools, a wave has already taken off.

Digital India

Launched by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1st July 2015, project "Digital India' (DI) is a collaborative effort to better digital literacy through internet in the rural areas of the country. The government aims at providing broadband connectivity to as many as 2.5 lakh villages initially and making as many schools Wi-Fi-enabled by 2019. The project is huge andentails an expected spend of Rs 1.13 lakh crore that has been set aside solely for the DI project.

Google's Initiatives

Although bigger enterprises in the country have benefited from their early espousal of the internet, individual consumers, government establishments, SMEs still need to increase engagement.

Project Loon that seeks to connect the countryside in India has Google working on Railwire, a project aimed at equipping 500 railway stations with a well-connected Wi-Fi network. Also helping the small businesses in India to expand, more than 2 million small businesses have been assisted by the Google My Business interface.

Microsoft's Plan

In a similar effort, Microsoft is working on taking low-cost broadband technology to nearly five lakh villages in India in conjunction with cloud computing intelligence to help drive efficiency and productivity across administrations and businesses of all sizes.

The Union Budget2016

The Union budget this year, too,had some good announcements in store with the Digital Literacy mission seeking to cover as many as six crore rural households. A plan to link 550 farmer markets across the country through the use of technology is also in pipeline.

Even though previous governments have had these areas under their development plans,the projects barely kept pace because of poor wireline infrastructure in the country. India has rated among the countries with the drowsiest internet connection speeds in the past.

But with the infrastructural shift gradually catching pace, there is reason to be anticipative. If the business environment for internet entrepreneurs turns more conducive, their efforts can be channelized to support rapid infrastructural innovation. And once achieved, sectors like education, agriculture, energy, small scale industries, health care utilities and public information can leverage all possible benefits of an information-rich society in the age of the global "digital and knowledge' revolution.

Aniket Deb

Founder, Bizongo

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