India needs Vi-Fi
How Realistic is the Dream of Free Wi-Fi in Indian Villages?
India is standing at the crossroads of digital revolution. The right way forward in this journey is rural connectivity. There is a need and urgency for establishing free Wi-Fi zones in the villages that can help in achieving significant level of internet penetration in the rural areas. It is proposed to give an acronym “Vi-Fi” to India’s free Wi-Fi plan for villages.
With several government initiatives, “Digital India” movement is gathering momentum. Factors like availability of affordable Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, large youth population quick to adopt digital technologies, fast growing aggregator services, urge of e–commerce companies to expand markets more deeply and availability of wider e-governance services are further fuelling this momentum. Post demonetization, Digital India has gained greater significance as the government is pressing ahead to make the people embrace cashless digital economy.
Before the demonetization episode in November 2016, the popular topic among the political circle was the free Wi-Fi zones. There has been a series of inaugurations of free Wi-Fi zones across various cities by political leaders to showcase the commitment of a digitally vibrant India. While free Wi-Fi zones are a welcome step for Digital India, the slow progress in rural connectivity is a cause for worry. Lower percentage of internet adoption in rural India is resulting in wider digital divide between rural and urban India. Some of the places where free Wi-Fi zone has been implemented are Taj Mahal, Agra, MG road at Bangalore, Connaught place, Delhi, Railway Station, Varanasi and Shivaji Park, Mumbai among others.
The Great Divide between the Rural and Urban India
Unfortunately, we don’t hear of any village being added to the free Wi-Fi plan. Perhaps it is because of the challenges involved in reaching the connectivity and less publicity opportunity associated with such locations.
India tops the global offline population followed by China and Indonesia. These three countries alone account for 46% of the global offline population. India also stands 2nd in the online population of the world, next to China only because of both countries have a large population. But one has to see the geographical and economical spread of this online population to understand the reality.
According to India’s census data 2011 available on the United Nation`s website, total population of India is 120.57 crore out of which 68% lives in rural India and 32% live in urban India. Grafting the TRAI internet subscription data over the census demographic data helps to understand the widening gap between the urban and rural internet access.
Let us apply a similar calculation to the internet using age group of 15-54 year-olds of India. Out of 48.01 crore, only 6.24 crore of rural India and out of 29.43 crore, about 17.36 crore of urban Indian population has access to internet. The ratio between connected and unconnected stands at 1:7 for rural and 17:12 for urban population.
Despite Rural India having 62% of total population, its internet penetration is just one fourth of the total internet population of India. (Refer 15-54 age group population chart).
This situation needs immediate attention as a large population living in rural India is deprived of the internet access, that too when their learning capabilities are at peak. A decade of