“India’s Rocketing Internet-User Growth Has Stalled.” The Economist, January 12, 2023. https://www.economist.com/asia/2023/01/12/indias-rocketing-internet-user-growth-has-stalled.
The article talks about India’s Internet growth over the last few years, focusing on the role of mobile technologies. It provides statistical data on the number of mobile subscribers and active smartphones in a country with 1,420 million inhabitants, according to Worldometer.
“Stalling growth in internet use will have profound implications for millions of poor families. The government has increasingly defaulted to online solutions, including for booking covid-19 vaccinations. Most adults under 45 without a smartphone were at first told to trek to a government office to get registered. Only after an uproar were walk-in vaccinations permitted.”
“In October last year, the latest month for which figures are available, the telecoms regulator counted 790m wireless broadband connections, barely exceeding the previous peak of 789m, which was recorded in August 2021.”
“…GSMA, a telecoms trade body, estimates that half of adult Indian men owned a smartphone in 2021. Only a quarter of Indian women did. Another divide is between rural and urban India.”
The article showcases some important issues:
It shows how technology availability doesn’t translate into its immediate usage or adoption by the general public. The article does a good job describing how one of the main obstacles most people worldwide face is, due to their income, being able to pay for a cellular phone. However, the current problem, especially for women, is acquiring a smartphone and accessing all its benefits.
It explains how to aggregate numbers we frequently see in news media, telling us that the number of people connected does not accurately portray their ability to connect to the same services. For example, one-third of cellular service lines (over 225 million) in India are used with old handsets, not smartphones.
It explains how the geopolitical situation and the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder for low-income individuals to access smartphones as their prices increased. As you can see, this is counterproductive, as many of the government’s initiatives to tackle COVID-19 were communicated via online platforms. The lesson is simple: people without smartphones cannot connect to advanced applications.
Many of India’s eGovernment programs are available to cellular service users. They include digital payments and health appointments. Hence, people without access to the proper technology won’t get the same treatment and access to services from the government that those citizens do.
Access to technology is not homogeneous. For example, gaps exist between people living in cities and rural areas. Also, there is a high gender gap, as the article shows a lower percentage of Indian women have a cellular phone than their male counterparts. Explanations for this phenomenon include legal, cultural, financial, and economic reasons.