India said to lag Brazil, China, Russia in digital access

A large section of the population does not have access to information and communications technology

India lags behind China, Russia, and Brazil in providing its citizens with access to information and communications technology, according to a report by risk analysis firm, Maplecroft, in the U.K.

India is rated at “extreme risk” among countries whose populations and economies are stifled by a lack of "digital inclusion," which Maplecroft defines as the ability to use and access information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as computers, the Internet and mobile phones.

The Digital Inclusion Index, released by Maplecroft, uses 10 measures to calculate the level of digital inclusion found across 186 countries. The indicators include data on mobile cellular and broadband subscriptions, fixed telephone lines, households with a PC and television, Internet users and secure Internet servers, Internet bandwidth, secondary education enrolment, and adult literacy.

India was rated at 39 in the index, while China at 103, Brazil at 110, and Russia at 134 are rated medium risk. The fast growing emerging economies of Brazil, India, China and Russia are usually referred to as the BRIC countries.

The Maplecroft index is referring to the risk to countries from failing to improve the level of digital inclusion for their population, Chris Laws, an analyst at Maplecroft, said in an e-mail on Wednesday. Access to ICT is increasingly considered a major development issue, and is therefore becoming a major political, economic and social imperative and risk factor, he added.

For business, the lack of digital inclusion threatens economic growth and social development by limiting market size and reducing the potential for trade, Laws said. It also inhibits individual and company access to educational and decision-making resources, and compromises the talent pool for employment, he added.

India has witnessed a boom in the last few years in the number of mobile phone connections and PCs in the country. A number of cyber cafes provide services to people who do not have other access to computers and Internet connectivity.

Some of the gains India has made in areas such as communications may be exaggerated, according to analysts. Data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India showed that only 71 percent of the 771 million mobile connections in the country at the end of January were active.

The affluent and some in the middle class in India have adopted ICT, according to Maplecroft. But the vast majority of the population has, however, been excluded, as they cannot afford ICT, or do not have the education required to use it effectively, or are located in geographical areas that have little or no connectivity, it said.

Only three percent of Indian households own PCs, and the country has secondary school enrolment rates of 55 percent and adult literacy rates of just under 63 percent, according to Maplecroft.

Private mobile operators in India are rolling out 3G services, and the hope is that mobile devices will allow many in rural and marginalized areas to get Internet access, Laws said. “This is assuming that products are affordable and accessible for the large low-income population in the country,” he added.

With 420 million Internet users, China has the largest number of Internet users in the world, and accounts for over half of Asia's Internet users, Maplecroft said. Internet freedom is however a serious issue in China, and to a lesser extent in Russia, it added.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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