Digital India and the importance of Rural Markets

PM Narendra Modi’s highly ambitious Digital India vision is an exciting path towards embracing digital technologies and reaping the benefits in a host of areas. The current ruling Government’s engagement with social media in triggering change was also like none other in the past.

The Digital India programme aims to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The initiative, bidding to bridge India’s digital segmentation and bring big investments in the technology sector. The focus of the Rs 1.13 lakh crore initiative is on using technology to create a participative, transparent and responsive government.

The success of Digital India largely depends on the rural markets. According to IBEF report, India’s per capita GDP in rural regions has grown at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.2 per cent since 2000.

The businesses in India are optimistic about growth of the country’s rural markets, which is expected to be faster than urban markets. Hence, these markets can’t be ignored.

Considering these factors, government through its Digital India initiative has initiated measures to advance communication infrastructure, enhance connectivity and drive internet uptake in rural markets. For example, broadband connectivity to cover all 250,000 gram panchayats and universal access to mobile connectivity for 40,000 villages by 2018. E-services have begun to pick up momentum and electronic transactions related to e-governance projects have almost doubled in 2015. More than 12,000 rural post office branches have been linked digitally.

Also, the government of India is looking to install Wi-Fi hotspots at more than 1,000 gram panchayats across India, under its ambitious project called Digital Village, in order to provide internet connectivity for mass use, as well as to enable delivery of services like health and education in far-flung areas. Hence, we can see that Government is leaving no stone unturned to digitalize rural areas.

The benefits of a truly Digital India for rural areas are even more significant than the more trendy applications that urban planners can envisage.

In recent years, rural mobile subscriber base has grown significantly, twice as faster compared to urban subscriber base. Hence, service providers are turning their attention to rural India for their expansion. Mobile telephony is expected to play the lead role in delivering the advantages of information access and digital empowerment to the rural population.

Government’s plan to provide universal phone connectivity and access to broadband in 2.5 lakh villages by 2019 is the clarion call for entrepreneurs and policy planners to take advantage of the opportunity to build new solutions for rural markets.

The unravelling of the potential for rural transformation on the strength of digital platform calls for innovation and pragmatic approach along with conscientious implementation. The rural population have the limitation of inadequate computer and Internet literacy in reaping benefits out of various Digital India schemes. For example, the DIG Locker scheme to provide digital storage facility would be indeed valuable but whether the rural population will be sufficiently Internet savvy to take advantage of this is a moot question. Similarly, eSign providing the service of digital signature through Aadhar authentication would be an excellent provision for digital security and prevention of digital fraud. But will the rural population be able to make use of this scheme without an external help?

Thus, to achieve the set goals to digitalize rural India, government needs to meet certain conditions. Firstly, the telecom infrastructure for broadband facilities have to be available to a critical mass of rural consumers. Secondly, broad based availability of broadband services, through handheld devices, is a pre-requisite for the achievement of the goals of ‘Digital India’. Thirdly, the biggest challenge in providing such affordable broadband coverage is the wireless “last-mile” link. The ‘Digital India’ plan will not deliver the desired results unless The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is linked to telecom towers, which provide critical ‘last mile’ wireless broadband services to rural households.

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