The new normal has set an imperative for mainstreaming digital service delivery, both for businesses and commoners. India, already a formidable name in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) frontier, found another gear in digital adoption during the pandemic.
However, the shift to digital did not impact those on the wrong side of the digital divide. For instance, internet penetration is limited to only half of India’s population, 84% of educators are under-equipped to teach digitally and 80% of parents have faced challenges in provisioning digital educational tools for their children.
Enabling the inclusion of millions
Leadership across sectors are cognizant that the issue of pervasive digital inclusion in India is not only one of feasibility but also that of scale. We do possess definitive advantages. Even with a low per-capita internet consumption footprint, the subcontinent is still home to 12% of the world’s 3.8 billion internet user base, second only to China. Interestingly, the government’s current priorities are pivoting around augmenting this base through the democratization of digital access and demand.
The Prime Minister’s Wi-Fi Access Network Interface initiative seeks to embed 2 million Wi-Fi hotspots across India, building a conducive ecosystem to nurture socio-economic momentum and inclusion. TRAI predicts that such an affordable public system, while rendering access to basic human rights, will unleash a ‘domino effect’ on the economy, reaping a 1.4% hike in GDP.
The corporate India also comprehends the urgency of connecting with the un-reached and is fervently working with the government to enable nation-wide connectivity and affordable access. Simultaneously, building formidable community resilience on the back of universal digital access through CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility and a shift in operational dynamics in the social sector is just as crucial. Driven together, this can create shared value for communities, businesses, and government alike.
Making sure underprivileged benefit the most through improved connectivity
In India, businesses’ role in assuring last mile-digital access is rightly aligned with the core national focus. However, it can be further optimized by supporting grass-root implementers to adopt digital and data-driven protocols. This helps build resilience among communities that can use digital tools for healthcare, learning, entrepreneurship, employment, and so on. Such transitions that use the power of connectivity will expedite adding the Next Billion Users in India into the scope of digital inclusion, as well as create new markets and users.
India’s cultural heterogeneity, demographic mix and topological diversity make our Digital Divide conundrum unique. It requires equated and nuanced thrusts on both policy and functional fronts. If we are to succeed in time, stakeholders across the public and the private sectors need to operate resolutely, focusing on digital access as a prime enabler and an inalienable civil right for Indian citizens.