To understand about the digital divide existing in a country, studying the internet usage pattern in the rural and urban areas would be helpful. In a country like India, where the rural population is more than the urban population, there is a huge difference in rural vs. urban internet connections.
Digital divide – the reasons behind the trend
According to an IAMAI study, in 2014, the active internet users in urban India were 152 million and that in the rural areas of India were 61 million. The population in rural India back then was 905 million with the urban population being 409 million. While the population in the rural area is more than double that of the urban areas, the internet usage was less than half. This is considered as the digital divide, which is also related to the slow penetration of technology in rural areas. Here are some of the reasons behind the digital divide between villages and metros-
- Difference in internet infrastructure: The internet infrastructure in villages is not the same as that in the cities. From broadband to cable internet, there is a whole range of connection options available in the cities. In the villages wired connections are limited. Satellite-based internet connections are the most common options in most rural areas across the globe. Another popular choice is the mobile cellular data. A majority of the internet consumers in the rural regions rely on the use of 4G and 3G network for connecting to the internet. This limits the type of content that can seamlessly be accessed in the villages. To some extent, it also limits the devices on which the internet is accessed.
- Difference in power supply: For the efficient use of high-speed internet uninterrupted power supply is a major requisite. This is not possible in several remote villages in the country. This makes it challenging to maintain proper internet infrastructure. Resilience similar to that of the cities, therefore, becomes slightly difficult even if the correct setup is laid down.
- Difference in internet usage purpose: The purpose for which rural users access the internet and that for which urban users log into the internet are different. Most urban users rely on the internet for a majority of their financial transactions. There are IT companies and industries located in the urban areas that also constitute a major share in the internet usage of the cities. In rural areas, on the other hand, internet usage is mostly for entertainment purposes. With fewer reasons to browse the internet, there were fewer users.
The need of the hour
As long as the demands for the internet are purely for entertainment purposes, the impact of the digital divide was not felt a great deal. But with the pandemic situation, pushing more transactions online the difference is showing magnified implications. Internet connections are not the same in the villages as they are in towns and big cities. But activities like education have been relying on the use of the internet heavily in the past few months. This has increased the demand for penetration of the internet in rural areas.
As educational institutions try to operate through online classes, India has been forced to work on the digital divide that exists. In order to ensure that the students in rural areas continue to gain access to quality education the internet infrastructure in the villages has been continuously improving during recent times. There was a time when many villages did not even have access to good computers and smartphones. But within the past few years, device-based challenges for internet access have been overcome.
Necessity turning the tables
India is in second place when it comes to the number of internet users. As a surprising twist in comparison with the condition that existed in 2014, the number of internet users has drastically increased in rural areas.
The number of active internet users in the rural areas of the country, by November 2019, was found to be 227 million. It was 205 million in the urban regions in the country. With more and more people now using digital payment methods and with more broadband and other internet connectivity options now being established in villages, the digital divide might soon change. The active user count in villages comprises of people who browse the internet at least once a month. Cities still have a higher number of people connecting to the internet on a daily basis. Broadband makes it possible to establish a Wi-Fi network and access the internet from multiple devices in an urban household. In the villages, on the other hand, cellular data still remains one of the most commonly used channels for connecting to the internet.
The overall increase in the internet consumption in the country comprises of a major chunk coming from the younger population who fall in the school-going category. This clearly shows how virtual classrooms have drastically altered the digital divide. This has also paved the way for a change in rural vs. urban internet connections in the country.