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India’s Digital Divide Is Not Just About Accessibility

Four years ago, the government launched Digital India was to better deliver government services and make governance more transparent and inclusive. However, India’s digital divide may be preventing the programme from achieving its desired outcomes suggests a new study by Jang Bahadur Singh and M Vimalkumar of the Indian Institute of Management, Tiruchirappalli.

Their research shows that while mobile phone penetration has grown significantly in India, there remain sharp disparities in how phones are used. Singh and Vimalkumar categorize Indian mobile phones users into four groups by ‘feature use’. For instance, Group 1 mobile phone features rank low in complexity and do not require internet access (e.g. making or receiving calls). Group 2 features are high in complexity but do not require internet access; while group 3 features are comparatively low in complexity, but need internet access. Finally, Group 4 features are both complex and need internet access (e.g. e-commerce and mobile banking applications).

Based on a 2015 survey conducted across 29 Indian states, the authors rank mobile phone usage using this categorization along with demographics and related information. They find that as the complexity of applications and the internet access requirement increases from Groups 1 to 4, the feature-use divide increases between male and female users. The results indicate that women are more likely to only use the voice call feature in phones. Similarly, people living in urban areas are more likely to use advanced. Age is another important factor that affects feature use, while education and occupation are found to be less relevant.

Thus, for digital India to succeed, access to mobile phones is not enough because of the significant differences that exist in usage. Without such an understanding of the digital divide, government efforts to digitally empower the marginalised sections of society may not materialise, the authors write.―Livemint

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