IFF releases the second edition of the Connectivity Tracker #MapTheDigitalDivide

tl;dr

IFF’s #connectivitytracker for Jan 2022 is here! Our report provides an overview of the state of internet access from Jan 2020 to Oct 2021. In this edition of the report, we analyze the data on telecom and internet connectivity, the digital divide in the context of access to online education, and the progress of government schemes aimed at improving internet access. We also aim to collect data on internet shutdowns (for which we need your help).

Introduction

The importance of access to the internet cannot be overstated. In developing countries in particular, internet access is vital for a plethora of reasons, such as improved work productivity, better human capital development, better access to key goods and services, and reduced information asymmetries. Moreover, as, unfortunately, the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to hit India, this importance will only increase, with many people going back to work-from-home regimes and online schooling.

On 3rd November last year, IFF released its first connectivity tracker, with the aim of providing a consolidated database for all statistics related to internet connectivity and access. Like we said last time:

Thus, we have decided to compile data from various sources to provide a holistic view of the state of internet access in India at present. It is important to note here that internet access does not just mean the presence of internet connectivity - it is just as essential that access be provided in an equitable manner. Therefore, we have also included data on the many digital inequalities that pervade our country. Lastly, we will also look at what the government is doing to alleviate these problems.

Here, equitable access to the internet would mean:

  • Affordable connectivity
  • High internet speeds that meet the requirements of modern life
  • Sufficient data to cater to basic digital needs
  • Robust & uninterrupted connections
  • Adequate devices through which to access the internet

We hope to institutionalise this tracker in the form of a bi-annual report to be released at the start of January & July every year. In the future, this tracker will grow to include more granular analysis of the key players in the telecom sector and will also incorporate data on internet shutdowns (more on this below).

Here, we discuss the four key takeaways from our connectivity tracker report for January 2022. For the full report, please see here.

Significant drop-off in wireless telecom subscribers in September

The telecom sector witnessed a significant drop in wireless subscribers between August and September 2021, from 1186.72 million to 1166.02 million (wireline figures have mostly stayed the same). The significance of the drop can be witnessed from the fact that for the months for which we have collected data (January 2020 - October 2021), the drop in September is both the highest (positive or negative) gross change - 20.43 million - and the highest (positive or negative) percentage change - 1.69% - in month-on-month total subscriber figures.

Internet subscribers in India: Slowed growth in September

There was a slow-down in growth in the total number of internet subscribers in September 2021, with the number of internet subscribers increasing by only 5.8 lakhs compared to June 2021. While this slowdown is not as strong as the decline in telephone subscribers, a look at quarterly growth rates shows that the slowdown is marked: the quarter-on-quarter growth rate for September (0.07%) is the lowest in our dataset, and is much lower than the compound monthly growth rate for the period under study.

Inequalities in access: Too many children left behind

With the advent of online learning brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, India witnessed a deepening of the digital divide as only a small class of children with access to the internet and smart devices were able to continue learning. The School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (“SCHOOL”) survey revealed the extent of this digital divide which especially affected rural children from Dalit & Adivasi communities. According to the survey,  55% of Scheduled Caste (SC)/Schedule Tribe (ST) children live in a house without a smartphone, compared with 38% of other rural children who live in a house without a smartphone. 43% of SC/ST children are not studying at all, and only 4% of them are studying online regularly, compared with 15% of children in other rural households who study online regularly. 83% of SC/ST parents feel that their child’s ability to read and write has declined during the lockout whereas 66% of other rural parents feel similarly.

Government schemes to increase internet access: Piecemeal progress and persistent problems

We looked at the progress of the various schemes being undertaken by the government to improve internet access. While there has been slow progress, certain issues remain. Under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) scheme – approved by the Government of India in 2017 to promote digital literacy in rural India by training 6 crores rural households to operate computer or digital access devices – 2,32,438 PMGDISHA training centers have been made operational. A total of 5.36 Crore candidates have been enrolled under the PMGDISHA Scheme, out of this, 4.54 Crore candidates have been trained and 3.37 Crore candidates have been duly certified as of 1st December 2021. The category-wise breakup of the beneficiaries (as of 24th November 2021) is given below:

Starred question no. 41; Lok Sabha

Tracking internet shutdowns: we need your help

Internet shutdowns have increased in frequency in the last couple of years across the world, with India witnessing one of the highest instances of shutdowns globally. Since there is no official source of data regarding internet shutdowns, we plan on collecting data on the frequency and magnitude of internet shutdowns, for which we need your help: please use this form to report an internet shutdown in your area, and also share it with people you know.

Important Documents

  1. State of Internet Access: January 2022 (link).
  2. Previous editions of the connectivity tracker (link).
  3. Compiled data from the TRAI’s Performance Indicator Reports (link)
  4. Compiled data from the TRAI’s Telecom Subscription Reports (link)

The post was drafted with the assistance of IFF intern Simrandeep Singh.