/ 30 March 2011

India’s digital divide worst among Brics

Most Indians are missing out on the “digital revolution” due to poor internet access for the nation’s poor, despite the economy boasting one of the world’s strongest growth rates, a study found.

The study said India was at “extreme risk” from a lack of “digital inclusion” — along with sub-Saharan Africa — as a vast proportion of its 1,2-billion population were being left behind shut out of the so-called.

“Digital inclusion has the potential to bring education to people in countries where educational infrastructure is limited and the development of cadres of teachers is still constrained,” said Alyson Warhurst, head of risk analysis firm MapleCroft, which carried out the survey.

Digital inclusion is also crucial in helping people take part in economic activities and improves democratic governance, Warhurst added.

A Digital Inclusion Index compiled by British risk analysis firm MapleCroft found that of 186 countries surveyed India was in the lowest category, well behind its peers Russia and China in the so-called Bric grouping of emerging economies.

India’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and, having powered out of the global financial crisis, this year is expected to expand 8,6% and 9% next year.

However, the study found that its population is not feeling the benefit and was being largely deprived of access to the internet.

Serious concern
On a scale of one to 138 with one being the worst, India stood at 39, in the same “extreme risk” category as Niger, which ranked number one, Chad and Ethiopia.

Russia stood at 134, Brazil at 110 and China at 103, all of whom are classified as being at “medium risk”, still well behind those in developed economies.

The Netherlands came top of the index at 186, with Sweden at 183 and Britain at 182.

India is the world’s fastest-growing mobile market with some 771-million mobile subscribers and monthly additions averaging around 19-million.

But the survey found it was just the wealthier segment of India’s population, mainly based in urban areas, who use modern communications technology.

Rural areas and the poor have little access to information communication technologies.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the digital divide between the country’s urban and rural sectors a matter of serious concern.

‘Digital inclusion’
The biggest impediments to wider use of the internet in India was expense, lack of education — India has an adult literacy rate of just under 63% — and poor connectivity in many parts of India, the study found.

However, India now is rolling out third-generation (3G) phone services which give access to the internet and this is expected to be a major boost to rural internet usage.

China has the largest number of internet users in the world with 420-million, accounting for over half of Asia’s internet users.

But MapleCroft said the lack of internet freedom in China remained a problem.

“Despite the Chinese government’s efforts to expand internet connectivity across the nation having seen how it can aid economic growth, the internet remains heavily controlled,” the study said.

The survey looked at 186 countries to identify those nations whose populations were being stifled by a lack of “digital inclusion”. It used 10 indicators to assess communications technology, including mobile and broadband subscriptions. — Sapa-AFP