Equity, Access, and Quality: High-Speed Internet for all

The Tunis agenda recognizes the digital divide faced by countries and identifies the encompassing role of internet governance as a key solution, with particular reference to social, economic, and technical issues. Focus on ICT (Internet Communication Technology) infrastructure is essential to internet governance, high-speed internet being a part of which, is necessary for bridging this divide. Robust and accessible high-speed internet, inter alia enables developing countries, countries in transition to play a participative role in the global markets for ICT enabled services while influencing internet governance. In light of the above, it becomes imperative to align the national development policies with the international coordination efforts to ensure equity, access, and quality of high-speed internet for all.

Supported by adequate measures, internet access can lead to greater socio-economic inclusion aligning with the country’s development goals. Its key characteristics are equity, access and quality across geography, demographics, and economic divides. Equity is the golden thread that ties access and quality of internet services and ensures parity between the divides. For developing countries like India, it is essential to build equitable access to next generation technology like 5G, IoT and satellite internet, etc. as it will significantly enhance the user experience.

While existing proliferation of technologies like 4G and optic fiber have addressed major issues, certain gaps exist in terms of equitable access to high-speed internet which can be highlighted as: geographic access – certain parts of India still remain inadequately covered, demographics – significantly lower internet literacy, ease of access and use for the elder generation, economics – access to affordable devices like smartphones and tablets remain significant challenges. Further, quality of service and reliability significantly impact the internet experience across divides.

ICT capacity building is recognized as the key to equitable internet access. India has addressed this through significant capacity enhancement initiatives such as – establishing Internet Exchanges (such as NIXI) – for regulation of .IN domains, extensive operator neutral broadband network connecting rural areas – (NOFN – BBNL), incentives for Telecom and Network products (PLI scheme), etc. For an inclusive digital society, measures such as public Wi-Fi projects - PM WANI and bottom up approach - incorporate rural governance bodies like gram panchayats through CSCs – acting as access points for delivery of public utilities and social welfare schemes are underway.

Private investments in ICT aligned with India’s enabling policy landscape to spark digital first–technology solutions are providing a significant impetus to the domestic industry and other stakeholders. It has had a multifaceted - multiplier effect, particularly on end users – creating access, competition, and ease of use. Horizontal treatment of technology in high impact sectors like finance – commerce: e-payments, citizen services: last mile delivery e.g. DBT, has led to growth and demand for high-speed internet, leading India to attract significant investments in technology based companies and start-ups. An effect of which is the increasing number of consumers engaging in regional languages, fulfilling the agenda of social inclusion to a great extent. As a result, today Indian consumers have the highest mobile data usage per month with the lowest rates.

Globally, India is one of the leaders in providing equitable access to high-speed internet. Flagship programmes like Aadhar and Digital India aim to develop India as a digitally powered society and knowledge economy, ensuring equity in its purest form by creating physical and social infrastructure for the benefit of the nation.