950 Million Indians Still Don’t Have Access to the Internet

A study conducted by ASSOCHAM and Deloitte says that 79.1% of Indians are out of reach of the Internet

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A study– ‘Strategic national measures to combat cybercrime,’ by ASSOCHAM and research firm Deloitte says that 950 million Indians are out of the reach of the Internet, despite mobile data plans in India being among the cheapest in the world and the declining price of smartphones.

“Internet penetration is increasing in India, the access to affordable broadband, smart devices and monthly data packages is required to spread digital literacy to make their ends meet,” said the study.

The study says the government should strive to create awareness by educating the public about the “benefits of technology such as increase in the standard of living of the weaker sections of society and enhancing financial inclusion”.

The study notes that the government should increase the speed of adopting digital infrastructure and impart digital literacy in schools, colleges, and universities. The study also notes that the government work in tandem with global technology leaders and  the workforce trained under Skill India.

The recent spate of cyber crimes in the country –most notably the recent hacking of Twitter accounts of Rahul Gandhi and Barkha Dutt and the massive debit card hack has plagued online Indian users in recent times and may have been a deterrent in the adoption of digital technologies in India. To combat this the study asks that people be educated on “cyber security, risks and safeguarding of information on the internet”.

The private sector should be given incentives so that they “develop infrastructure, provide services and promote digital literacy”, said the study. India’s booming start-up industry “should be involved to create and customise apps to local needs” to promote digital literacy, adds the study.

The biggest barriers in the adoption of digital technologies is cost and affordability, especially in the economically weaker sections of society, notes the study. The study adds that “most telecom operators so far have not invested significantly in development of high speed access networks in rural areas”. The study also notes that local languages have to be integrated into technology to promote digital literacy in a nation with 1600 languages and dialects.

India lags behind when it comes to internet speeds. The average internet speed is 4.1 Mbps, the lowest in Asia-Pacific. However, this figure has improved over the last two quarters and India moving up to 114 from 105 in Internet Speed Ranking. One of the reasons behind the increased usage is that the number of free Wifi hotspots has gone up. Google and Railtel have implemented free wifi-hotspots in about 100 railway stations across the country.

The global average Internet connection speed is 5.6 Mbps. South Korea has the world’s fastest at 26.7 Mbps.

The right to internet access has long been regarded as an important component of modern human life. Earlier this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a non-binding resolution that declared that internet access is now a basic human right and “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online”. However, countries such as  Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, and South Africa opposed this resolution. They asked the line –“intentional disruption to internet access or infringement on the ability to share information online” to be deleted. This resolution is not binding — meaning governments that do not follow this resolution cannot be prosecuted. However it does put pressure on countries that restrict access to the Internet and gives Internet activists some strength.

Just recently, Canada’s telecommunications regulator declared high-speed internet access an essential service to all including those that live in remote rural areas.

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