ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Evidence of Feature-level Digital Divides in India

From Mobile Access to Use

The digital divide is the disparity between individuals with respect to access to information and communication technologies. The growing prevalence of mobile phones in India is often linked to phones becoming access points to various government schemes and services. However, ICTs have various features that are not uniformly operated by different users. The use of mobile phones is examined using micro-level data to highlight how the socio-demographic characteristics of individuals (age, gender, literacy, etc) influence their engagement with the various features of a mobile phone.

Information and communications technologies (ICTs) facilitate the economic development of the poor and marginalised by improving their access to education, healthcare, and financial services (Waverman et al 2005; O’Riain 2004; Steinmuller 2001). Thus, it is important to bridge the digital divide—the inequality between the technological “haves” and “have nots” (Dewan and Riggins 2005; OECD 2001; Wei et al 2011)—and promote equitable access to ICTs such as personal computers and mobile phones.

Over the last decade, India has witnessed an exponential growth in the penetration of mobile phones, and according to recent statistics, there are 88 mobile phone connections for every 100 individuals (TRAI 2017). Mobile phones are a major channel for accessing the internet in India—approximately 81% of internet users in India access it using smartphones (Neeraj 2016). Although smartphone penetration is still low, its growth has been robust due to the recent availability of low-cost handsets (Euromonitor 2017). This has led to growing optimism that the digital divide can be bridged with mobile phones. In recent years, the government has been trying to improve access to government services by linking delivery to mobile phones and mobile internet. With policy interventions like Digital India (2015), the current government envisions a digital society in which a cashless economy will feature prominently, made possible by mobile banking and digital payments. However, the challenges associated with implementing technology-based policy interventions among a diverse population have sparked a renewed debate on their efficacy in addressing social problems (for example, Prakash 2016a; Mannathukkaren 2015).

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Updated On : 12th Aug, 2019

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