In­dia needs Vi-Fi

Voice&Data - - PREEONPLDES -

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

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