ICRIER-BIF released their report on Building an Inclusive Digital Society for Rural India at the Minister’s Roundtable, India Internet Governance Forum (IIGF 2021)

New Delhi : Shri Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Honourble Minister of State, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) released an ICRIER report on ‘Building an Inclusive Digital Society for Rural India’, commissioned by the Broadband India Forum (BIF), during the High Level Round Table at the IIGF 2021. Mr. Maarten Botterman, ICANN Board Chairman; Shri Ajay Sawhney, Secretary, MeitY; Shri Anil Jain, CEO, NIXI; Shri BK Syngal; Ms. Anriette Esterhuysen, Chair, MAG IGF, Ms. Navika Kumar Group Editor, Times Network & Editor-in-Chief, Times Network Navbharat and Dr. Deepak Mishra, Director and Chief Executive of ICRIER were all present at the event. In his remarks, the Hon’ble Minister reiterated the transformative role of technology in enabling businesses, social interactions and economic development. He underlined the government’s focus on a multi-stakeholder framework to develop policy for the future of the Internet, which is open and safe for all.

 

Following the release of the report, Dr. Rajat Kathuria, one of the authors of the report and former Director and Chief Executive of ICRIER, summarized the findings, emphasizing on the need to address divides in technology access. He stated, “The bang for the buck is in providing better digital access to rural areas, to women, and communities that are relatively deprived. Recommendations in the report are presented with a view to achieve these objectives and to deliver the promise of inclusive digital growth.”

 

Mr. TV Ramachandran, President, BIF, commented on the report: “BIF is committed to the cause of Rural Digital Inclusion via broadband connectivity since its very inception, with a dedicated Rural Digital Initiatives (RDI) Committee working on the same. This report is amongst the several initiatives undertaken by BIF to provide practical suggestions for overcoming the access barriers and helping bring the unconnected into the ambit of our Digital Economy.”

 

The key highlights of the Report are as follows:

· Digital inclusion implies that individuals and communities can access and adopt technology to improve their socio-economic status. Accordingly, the framework in this report looks at the simultaneous measurement of Access, Adoption and Application, which are interdependent areas for policy action.

· A comparison of 15 indicators that measure the performance of all states and union territories on parameters of digital inclusion in rural areas finds that, in most states and UTs CSC coverage of connected Gram Panchayats (GPs) is very high (all India average at 95 percent, which is highly creditable). There is huge scope for improvements in Broadband connectivity to public schools (all India average at 1.2 percent). Other indicators such as percentage of GPs with an installed Wi-Fi hotspot, performance of the Prime Minister’s Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA), percentage of broadband connected public hospitals, etc. demonstrate high degrees of variation across states/UTs.

· The assessment of secondary data clearly establishes that significant progress has been made in several areas across a few states, and there is enormous potential for building comprehensive digital societies for rural India. The case studies for Assam, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal explain differences in outcome by illustrating how states have adopted different approaches in implementing policies for acceleration of network infrastructure, digital services and digital literacy.

· The report finds scope for improvements in policy design as well as implementation through a concentrated effort that simultaneously focuses on access, adoption and application. More specifically, recommendations on improving access focus on building last mile connectivity with network utilization and monetization at the core of the policy design, improving accountability of the network deployed and future-proofing network design, smoothening RoW policies, reviewing spectrum assignment and standardisation of technologies, complementing fibre with new technologies such as satellite broadband and FSOC, and building supporting infrastructure such as electricity connections.

· Digital adoption policies and applications must focus on addressing regional and gender divides. Local contextualization of initiatives is important to drive participation, create awareness and trust. Improving collaboration between central, state and local governments as well as encouraging private sector participation cut across all three levers.

 

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