Networked India, a lagging dream

Networked India, a lagging dream

The Network Readiness Index (NRI) provided by the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report, 2016, presents a poor picture of India. The country’s position is 91st out of 139 countries in the index, which measures their ability to utilise the information and communication technology (ICT). It is not only the poor present ranking but also the slide in performance that should cause worry. India had the 68th rank among 144 countries in 2013; since then, however, the position has been steadily falling. There is an impression that broadband network is fast spreading in India. But the index shows that the country is lagging behind others. The fall in the rank is attributed to the faster growth in other cou-ntries. This shows that India’s network growth has relatively slowed down. The index is based on the use of ICT, the readiness to use it and the environment for it.

The poor performance raises questions about the implementation of the Digital India programme and other initiatives like the Smart Cities and the Make in India plans. The ICT has an important role to play in all of them. Work on laying the national fibre optical network, which is the backbone of such programmes, has been badly delayed. Permissions to dig roads for laying the optical fibre are still said to be difficult to get. Electricity has not reached a large number of villages and its availability is erratic. India’s ranking in the index is a much lower 114 for infrastructure. In terms of bandwidth per use, it is still lower. Another problem is the inability of people to access the network. Poor educational levels of most people are a major impediment. Two-thirds of the population are either illiterate or dr-opouts from school. In terms of skill levels and individual usage, too, India’s rank is very poor. Net content has not been adequately developed in regional languages. Educational levels have to be improved but this will take time. Only 15 out of 100 households have access to the internet. There is a big digital divide between the rich and the poor and the urban and rural areas.

While the government is pushing Digital India and other programmes, it should accelerate work in all the areas that contribute to better connectivity and towards the creation of a more networked society. Internet access can change and improve the lives of millions of people. India may beat other countries in absolute numbers of broadband users, but broadband penetration is very important. Issues related to infrastructure, facilities and official procedures, highligh-ted by the index, should be attended to immediately.
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