To Make India Truly Digital, Target the Poor, Not Rich
Monday, June 1, 2015
America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the powerful regulator for all communication, has proposed that poor citizens of the US should have subsidised access to the internet via broadband.
According to a report in the New York Times last week, the FCC believes that the subsidy programme, named Lifeline, will be in line with its view that high-speed internet access is on a par with other essential services for the well-being of the poor such as education, food and housing.
In fact, for the past three decades, low-income Americans have been getting telephone services at subsidised rates and this has contributed in improving their quality of life in many ways, including ready access to medical care and jobs.
When the Lifeline programme is introduced, they will also get cheap access to broadband services — till now affordable only to those who are better off. There could be a pointer in this for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious vision for a Digital India.
In February 2014, when Mr Modi was still chief minister of Gujarat, he had outlined his vision at a summit where he spoke about his dreams of building a Digital India: of creating high-speed digital highways to unite all of India and connect its 1.25 billion people; of providing every Indian hurdle-free access to information, government services, social media, financial services, healthcare, and education; and of making every Indian a digitally empowered netizen.
The vision for Digital India also featured prominently in his election campaign. And sure enough, after becoming Prime Minister, Mr Modi flagged off the project. But it is one that is probably among India’s most challenging and also costliest.