March 10th, 2014
New Delhi, India—DEF participated in the “Improving Internet Access for Growth and Development in India” organized by Brookings India. This discussed operated under Chatham House a rule which means that all comments and discussion are off-the record.
Brookings India is undertaking a two-year research project that seeks to understand how internet is accessed in India and the challenges that remain for people to access the internet.
The discussion was facilitated by Brookings India Scholar, Shamika Ravi and group of panelists that underscored the importance of enabling access to more than 800 million people in India. Other included Sabina Dewan, Executive Director of Just Jobs, Subho Ray, Founder IAMAI, and Arun Mehta.
2.9 billion People in the world have access to Internet and derive social, economic and civic benefits from digital connectivity. However, 4.3 billion are digitally excluded. In India, this is significantly important since it affects the way of living, health, education, agriculture, economics and civic engagement.
However, there remain a number of challenges to access. First, the link between digital connectivity and livelihoods/income generation is very important. When many people, specifically in the rural areas and people living in the slums in urban areas, do not have access to proper health, sanitation and clean drinking water/food, it is incomprehensible that these people would access internet. Perhaps, that will be the last thing on their mind. Second, digital literacy is also a factor.
Internet is widely perceived and understood to be a public good. But the real number of internet users is still questionable. While many argue that people that do not have knowledge, skills or education to get on to the internet, other says that just giving these targeted group of people digital devices like smartphones, tablets, PCs or laptops is just enough—because they can figure it out themselves. Third, it is important that services are available at an affordable rate for the people—many who are living in dire poverty—because in the current global economic system and capitalist economy, people have to have affordable and quality services (i.e. access internet at a fast speed).
Moreover, the government and all stakeholders involved must ensure that the network and connectivity is protected in India—since it is a earthquake and flood prone region. Reliable infrastructure means that a network of systems be available locally so that people can be helped in disaster situations. If there is no connectivity, people cannot be helped.
Finally, diverse and open content must be available in local languages for people to access the internet. Research highlights that around 6 percent of the population speak or understand English, globally; but more than 90 percent of the content available online is in English. This stresses the need to understand the relevancy of local content and diversity to enable access.