Digital divide is any uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of information and communications technologies between any number of distinct groups, which can be defined based on social, geographical, or geopolitical criteria, or otherwise.
Impacts of digital divide:
- In the Lokniti-CSDS National Election Study 2019, only 1 in every 3 were found to be using smartphones (approximately 90% of the smartphone users had Internet in their phones), and merely 16% and 10% households had access to a computer/laptop and an Internet connection at home, respectively.
- According to the Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicator Report- the percentage of rural population that subscribes the internet is 34.60%. It even conflicts with the early stage learnings from CoWin’s own dashboard.
- There is the issue of mandatory Co-Win registration as part of the new decentralised distribution strategy, which potentially adds to an entry barrier that could be tougher to navigate for users in the hinterland, both in terms of access to the platform and an English-only interface for users so far.
- In the absence of the internet and without knowledge of how the portal functions, the majority of India’s rural population is being discriminated against and a form of technical rationing is being implemented by CoWin based on broadband connectivity and digital literacy.
- Mandatory online registration introduces a skew in favour of urban centres, given that a little over half of India’s population has access to broadband Internet, while rural tele-density is under 60%. States including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh having among the country’s lowest tele-density.
- It is more difficult for those with less access and greater unfamiliarity with technology, including access to a smartphone or computer.
- Online registration for the jab bars up to half of India’s population, mainly in poor and rural areas, who do not have smartphones or internet access.
- Infrastructure: The promotion of indigenous ICT development under Atmanirbhar Abhiyan can play a significant role.
- Digital literacy: Digital literacy needs special attention at the school / college level. The National Digital Literacy Mission should focus on introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for basic content and in higher classes and colleges for advanced content.
- Role of regulators: Regulators should minimize entry barriers by reforming licensing, taxation, spectrum allocation norms. TRAI should consider putting in place a credible system. This system will track call drops, weak signals, and outages. It ensures the quality and reliability of telecom services.
- Cyber security: MeitY will need to evolve a comprehensive cyber security framework for data security, safe digital transactions, and complaint redressal.
- Telecom ombudsman: The government should also set up telecom ombudsman for the redress of grievances.
Efficacious and safe vaccines, regardless of their origin, need to be critically but quickly examined and added to the pool. India’s Covid-19 vaccine drive will be a monumental mission, not just in terms of vaccinating its own population, but also vaccinating a large part of the world thanks to its position as the world’s leading vaccine producer. Addressing the issues associated with the development and distribution of vaccines will augment the effort to efficiently get vaccines to hundreds of millions in the shortest period of time.