The digital divide: India’s rising digital uptake demands a digitally inclusive environment

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By Rohit Dadwal

With India’s rising digital uptake, it is imperative to foster a digitally inclusive environment

The world is moving towards a digital future and Asia is leading the way. According to the Digital Evolution Index 2017, developed Asian regions such as Japan, Korea, Hong Kong SAR and Singapore possess the appropriate infrastructure and support for digital development. Meanwhile, other developing Asian countries such as India and China are demonstrating the fastest momentum in digital uptake and have the largest potential for growth. This has created opportunities for consumers and marketers alike, yet it has also created an urban-rural digital divide that needs to be bridged.

The rural potential

According to the International Monetary Fund, Asian economies are dispersed all along the income spectrum. Hence, it is no surprise that Asia has the largest digital divide both within and between countries, given that they are intricately linked to the age and education levels of the population. Thus, within each country, it is essential to promote rural digital uptake so that rural individuals can gain access to educational, employment and health opportunities enabled by digital networks. This will provide those in the region greater connectivity and access to opportunities both within Asia and with the rest of the world.In India, rural digital uptake has immense potential to be a major economic contributor. A 10% increase in mobile broadband adoption may drive an average 0.6 to 2.8% in economic growth, as stated in a report by PwC India. For a country looking to compete against other Asian powerhouses on the international stage, it is imperative that the urban-rural digital divide is bridged and to leverage on the untapped potential of the world’s largest rural population of nearly 900 million, as reported by the United Nations.

Role of mobile

Touted as the world’s first mobile-first region, Asia surpassed other developed nations of the world in embracing mobile technology. In many rural areas of Asia, the use of smartphones for m-commerce, social interactions, financial services and even gaming has played a profound role in circumventing the issues associated with building essential infrastructure required for computers. The adoption of mobile as the preferred conduit for internet-based activities has leapfrogged as compared to the rate it took for Asians to be conditioned to their computers during the PC revolution.However, the trajectory of digital uptake in rural India is unique and unlike that of urban India and its Asian counterparts. Fuelled by the availability of low-cost smartphones, affordable data plans and increased digital awareness, rural India advanced to the mobile internet and app ecosystem, bypassing the PC revolution entirely. They are driving regional news, on-demand content consumption and engaging in activities that were once only available to the urban masses. Mobile has hence granted them access to geographically diverse content and services, which was not possible during the eras of brick-and-mortar shopfronts and the PC revolution.For example, the demand for m-commerce has assisted major e-commerce players in India in making huge inroads into rural areas since the launch of their mobile apps a few years ago. Banking organisations are also leveraging mobile-led solutions, such as the BHIM app, to provide easy access to the rural population, propelled in part by demonetisation and distant access to banking branches, according to PwC India.The full potential of rural digital uptake within India and across Asia remains to be seen. In reaching a digitally illiterate population, marketers must attempt to bridge the digital divide and rethink the way digital can be leveraged. Only then will increasing rural digital uptake benefit consumers, businesses and the nation’s economy.

Source: Financial Express

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