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.
Given the importance of digital connectivity to economic growth and the need to close the digital divide by 2022-23, India should strive for:
Physical digital connectivity across all states, districts, and village panchayats by 2022-23. (GPs).
Delivery of government services digitally by 2022-23.
Achieve 100 percent basic digital literacy across the country in order to take full advantage of digitization.
Current Policy Framework
According to the Internet Trends 2017 report, 27 per cent of India’s population (355 million users) uses the internet. While this represents exponential growth compared to 2009's 4% penetration , there is still room for improvement.
The Digital India scheme, which was launched in 2015, brought digitization to the forefront of public discourse. Under this programme, significant progress has been made in areas such as broadband highway construction, public internet access, e-governance, and the development of basic information technology skills, among others.
In 2011,the scheme for the laying down of a National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) was launched in order to connect all of the country's GPs to high-speed internet. Despite the fact that the project has fallen behind its original schedule, significant progress has been made.
Furthermore, the National Information Infrastructure (NII) will ensure network and cloud infrastructure integration in order to provide high-speed connectivity to various government departments down to the panchayat level. Networks such as the State Wide Area Network (SWAN), National Knowledge Network (NKN), BharatNet, Government User Network (GUN), and the MeghRaj Cloud are among the NII components.
The government also launched the Public Internet Access Programme, which aims to open 2,50,000 gramme panchayat-level common service centres (CSCs) to provide government services online. This programme will convert 150,000 post offices into multi-service centres. Last-mile connectivity, via Wi-Fi or other suitable broadband technology, is to be provided at all GPs across the country, with funding provided by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). Because the last mile connectivity will be provided by a service provider, at least one telecommunications service provider (TSP)/internet service provider (ISP) will be present at each GP to provide data service.
The government has identified 55,619 villages that do not have mobile service. The majority of these villages are located in the northeastern states. A comprehensive development plan has been initiated to cover remote villages in the North-East, which will be implemented in stages.
At the high school/college level, a special emphasis on digital literacy is required. The National Digital Literacy Mission should prioritise introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for foundational content and advanced content in higher classes and colleges. The mission's multiplier effect will be realised when these students educate their family members. Increased digital literacy will also increase the country's adoption of computer hardware.
Individual ministries and states must play a critical role in ensuring that all of their services are available and easily accessible to citizens via digital platforms. Digital platforms that allow for real-time data updates would increase accountability and make monitoring, quality checks, and timely intervention by higher administrative authorities easier. Ministries/states should ensure that services are credible and accessible in regional languages in addition to Hindi/English.
State governments should pay special attention to developing content in Indian regional languages, particularly for government e-services. To realise the vision of making all government online services available in all 22 official languages, the centre, states, and researchers must work together to promote Natural Language Processing (NLP) in Indian languages. This is now well within reach thanks to machine learning. The emphasis could be on automatic translation of content from Hindi or English into regional languages. Case studies, such as those of the European Union, which faced similar challenges in making content available in member countries' native languages, should be investigated in order to identify models that can potentially be adopted.
MeitY will need to develop a comprehensive cyber security framework that addresses data security, secure digital transactions, and dispute resolution.
MeitY's National e-governance Division should conduct periodic compliance audits of state governments' e-services. It should publish a report on the performance of e-services with the goal of enhancing service delivery.