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Broadband readiness index – A way forward

The world is at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which represents a transition to a new set of systems, bringing together digital, biological, and physical technologies in new and powerful combinations. The World Economic Forum Network Readiness Index 2016 measures how well an economy is using information and communications technologies to boost competitiveness and well-being. India has been ranked 91st out of 139 countries in the 2016 Networked Readiness Index (NRI). DoT and Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in July 2019 to develop a Broadband Readiness Index (BRI) for Indian states and Union Territories.

The index will include indicators, such as percentage of households using computers/laptops with internet connection, percentage of households with fixed-broadband connection, internet users as a percentage of the population, smartphone density, percentage of households with at least one digitally literate member, etc. The primary survey of BRI will be conducted annually until 2022, which will form the basis of the new digital communication policy in 2022. But it is important to pay close attention to the underlying process of ranking the states used by the concerned department, which may still be in its naive stage of formulation process.

As the countries are adopting the idea of transparency at a rapid pace, dashboards are one of the best ways to display metrics for tracking performance, and there is no hiding from those numbers. If something is not going well, it shows, and that transparency will help the different levels of bureaucracy to work together to address the issue. Also, by giving different permissions of usage of dashboard at different levels, not only the state ranking can be attained for this index, but also the district and GP’s rankings can also be attained which can benefit the state and districts by providing the clear picture to them about what is to be focused next.

A different set of questionnaires at each level will carry the true picture, and credibility can be assured this way. The field offices of MoC and ICRIER can collaborate on orienting master trainers at the state and district levels, who will then interact with GP representatives across all states. In the process, the government can have a long-term vision, which is necessary to sustain its achievement for broadband penetration across the country.

To build faith in the rest of the administrative system, it is important for the mission to demonstrate some quick wins – the states and districts with high rankings shall be rewarded to create a demonstration effect for others to learn from, and create belief in the system.

We look forward to seeing the outcomes of this effort, and how it will contribute to the next set of ambitions laid out by the Government of India. There are still many lessons to be learned and the country needs to pay close attention to setting clear targets and working on their implementation. But if development is to be inclusive and just, and leave no one behind, it can only be effectively addressed if the voices of the head of district/GP are heard, because power truly lies with them to make a lasting difference for their people.

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