At this point, it's hard to picture a world without the internet. Since its inception as a platform for everything from personal to commercial communication to social networking and virtual hangouts, the internet has become indispensable. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have cemented their position as a necessary component of modern life.
Many people's lives have been transformed by the Internet, Every day, more and more individuals are turning to the internet to carry out routine tasks including banking, schooling, searching for jobs, civic participation, and the development and maintenance of social networks.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, the phrase "Digital Divide" was often used in research and initiatives. The notion of the digital divide has changed over time, as has access to content in it. It is now considered to be a) a lack of infrastructure; b) a lack of access; c) a lack of information; and d) an inability to utilise information.
The 'digital divide,' is the gap between those who have and do not have access to computers and the internet, i.e., related to access to the digital medium. However, what matters is not the lack of tools like computers and the internet, but the lack of tangible and nontangible opportunities that it provides.
It further disadvantages an already vulnerable population. Even if India's aim of becoming a five trillion-dollar economy is realised, it would be hollow if it is not inclusive; this is why the gap between haves and have not must be bridged.
Poverty is a significant impediment to Internet access. The high cost of ICT equipment and data plans, as well as poor wages and affordability, are the difficulties for most of the offline population. Poverty and socioeconomic restraints digitally exclude those at the bottom of the economic ladder because they cannot afford emerging communications technology and the costs associated with updating equipment, software, and training assistance. To promote digital inclusion among low-income groups, a policy framework must be adopted to increase affordability and accessibility.
The main barriers to internet adoption include a lack of adequate network coverage and inadequate infrastructure, especially in rural areas and places with difficult terrain. The government and certain big enterprises are seeking to fix this problem via network sharing, the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, and other measures to deliver consistent and inexpensive access in rural regions. Because of the long-distance, there were issues with weak signals and connection failures.
Internet connection in rural India will be made relatively inexpensive by Google's project 'Loon,' which will use a network of high-altitude balloons to transmit internet services to remote areas of India. They have also collaborated with telecom firms to share a cellular frequency, allowing individuals to access the internet.
If you want to participate fully and substantially in society, you must be literate. Internet penetration is hindered by a lack of literacy, as digital literacy and skills are essential for gaining access to digital content. The majority of internet content and information is geared for those who can read at a basic or intermediate level.
Another reason for digital exclusion is the language in which content is available on the internet. India is a culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse society. Various government schemes concerning digital services now emphasise making the content available in vernacular language to ensure substantial and real access in truest essence.
Accessing and using ICTs can be difficult for people with disabilities, including those with physical disabilities that limit the use of input devices, those with visual disabilities that make it difficult to see display devices, those with hearing disabilities that make it difficult to hear audio information, and those with learning/cognitive disabilities that make it difficult to comprehend system operations.
In addition, a variety of software is available for those who are blind or visually handicapped, making computer use simpler and more productive. Using a screen reader, the content presented on a computer screen is converted into an understandable format for those with visual impairments (usually tactile, auditory or a combination of both). Assistive technology evaluation, training, and support services are still a substantial barrier to full participation in digital services for people with disabilities because of the overall high cost of assistive technology and training.
The 'National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility,' developed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (2013), acknowledges the need of eliminating discrimination based on disability and facilitate equitable access to electronics and ICTs for people with impairments.
Women are the most susceptible category in terms of total digital exclusion, and the situation worsens when they are on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder and live in rural regions. India is a patriarchal country, it is difficult for women to seek better chances and empower themselves not just in the home but also in the community.
In 2020, 25 percent of the total adult female population owned a smartphone versus 41 percent of adult men.
Challenges encountered by the females:
The challenges women and girls encounter in using the internet both reflect and promote gender stereotypes. One of the most fundamental disparities exacerbated by the digital revolution is the gender digital gap. As a result of cultural norms, women have had a lot of difficulty using modern technologies.
Rural India's odd prohibitions on women using cell phones are the most pressing issue. Mobile phones have been blamed by certain groups for encouraging women to elope because they are 'debasing the social climate' and encouraging young women to leave their families (Aljazeera, 2016).
Using a cell phone while unmarried is punishable by INR 10,000 in Sunderbadi village in Kochadham block of Kishanganj district, Bihar (Shetty, 2012).
Due to social constraints, women are unable to fully participate in the digital world since they are constantly observed by male members of their families, as well as lacking support from other family members. It has been found that one in five women in India feel the internet is not 'suitable' for them, according to an Intel report published in 2013.
As a result of these societal pressures, many women feel that surfing the internet is a distraction and that their families would frown upon them if they do. Female internet usage is discouraged due to the high expense of Internet connection and gender conventions. It is perceived lack of know-how that discourages them.
Apart from all these factors, access to education hinders their participation in the digital space. Female education in India especially in rural areas is not considered a priority. Women and public space seems like an oxymoron to few owing to which internet is not accessible to women.
Melhem, Morrell &Tandon (2009) also claim that,‘Women and girls are poorly placed to benefit from the knowledge society because they have less access to scientific and technical education specifically and to education in general.’
In India, the skewed nature of women's access to ICTs is reflected throughout all age groups. Highly educated women, on the other hand, are a significant exception, as they apparently utilise ICTs as frequently as males, indicating that given educational opportunity and the resources to do so, it might have a levelling tendency.
Cultural and social standards, a lack of education, financial control, a lack of access to ICTs, and a lack of familiarity with technology all contribute to women being digitally illiterate and hindering their engagement in the digital sphere.
Digital technology has the potential to improve access to the education system while also enabling effective education and training programmes on a bigger scale. In the aftermath of pandemic the significance of digital education is realise like never before. It also exposed us to threats of unequal access to digital infrastructure.
India stands to benefit greatly from the digital revolution if it can increase its investment in the development of digital ecosystems in areas such as agriculture, education, energy, healthcare, and logistics.
Digital technology may also provide considerable efficiency to government services such as subsidy transfers and procurement, as well as enhance labour markets and minimise fragmentation in the informal sector, which employs the bulk of the labour force.
As a first step in closing the digital divide, it is imperative that the country's communication infrastructure be improved and made available to the whole population, no matter where they live. For developing nations like India, where more than half of the population still lives in rural areas, the reality that internet is still an urban phenomena is costly, so it requires considerable alterations. There is a concern that the internet is enlarging existing social disparities in India.