DIGITAL – are we there…

There has been a significant buzz in the media recently about the ‘Digital India’ launch by Prime Minister Modi. It was launched at a very impressive ceremony reminiscent of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ summit amongst a galaxy of India Inc stalwarts promising a significant investment to make this dream come true. Yes this is a ‘dream’ which all of us in India have dreamed will come true someday. Even if 50% of amounts of investment committed actually happens we would be very close to achieving the same.

I have always followed the process of digitization from the blinkered view of an Entertainment and Media analyst watching with interest how increasing broadband connectivity has changed and continues to change the very basic paradigm of content delivery and now content production. It has disrupted the settled business models and the new business models are still being developed. Change has been rapid in some markets but relatively slow in India. Pace in India has lagged the world not because of the consumer mindset, but the lack of infrastructure or investment in infrastructure at par with the world. The advent of ‘Mobile’ and ’Wireless broadband’ is finally helping us leapfrog some of our legacy infrastructure issues.

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However a digitally empowered service capability has a far larger import for a country like India than just looking at Entertainment Sector. It can help make a substantive difference on how India provides information and services to its vast multitudes of population and turn this into a true demographic dividend. The potential in following sectors has been discussed extensively and come to the mind immediately i.e,

  • Healthcare – both information and services
  • Education – with ability to reach large distances in language of choice & without physical infrastructure
  • Entertainment / Media – content production, distribution and consumption
  • E Governance – key government information & services provided without human interface
  • Agriculture Services – Information & Services
  • Financial Services – payment platform
  • E commerce – ability to transact without physical infrastructure

Clearly, the benefits are many and a digitally empowered India is a necessity rather than good to have. Therefore then the ‘Digital India’ dream needs to be fulfilled and the government’s might behind this dream is welcome.

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In recognizing this need to be digital, one must also recognize the difficulties one may encounter to get to a reasonable level of service delivery capability. In our euphoria of announcements, we must not get ahead of our ability to deliver. India as a country is far behind other countries in fixed line broadband & PC penetration.  Therefore our big thrust for connectivity is most likely through wireless and primarily on mobile devices. Some key areas which will need address before we can contemplate a hassle free digital connectivity are the following:

  • Spectrum – Availability of Spectrum and management of its use is critical in providing wireless connectivity. The current availability of spectrum is woefully less, providing for speeds which are substantially lower than in digitally advanced countries. As data usage increases spectrum availability, cost and its management will play a crucial role in how digitally empowered we are. Without spectrum, large investments in services are not likely to fructify inspite of promises made.
  • Devices – Provision of digital services & information is likely to be received through mobile and mobile handheld devices. Therefore, cost of such smart devices is the key to accessing digital services. Indian consumers are cost conscious and it is crucial at what prices these devices are available to them. The telecommunication revolution in this country was made possible through cheap devices. Therefore the ability to keep these costs down will determine the success of our digital drive.
  • Infrastructure – If mobile is the device of choice, then the attendant infrastructure in terms of mobile towers needs to be in place. Provision of environmentally beneficial power for telecom towers as well as equipment is a critical component in our quest for being a digital power.
  • Net Neutrality – To achieve the breakthrough and creative impact of digital connectivity, the government needs to ensure net neutrality or open internet with free & equal access to all consumers. Restricted access would hamper full digital creativity.
  • Privacy Laws – As we get digital, privacy of personal information assumes significant importance. We need policy and implementation of policy at the highest level to protect against unauthorized use of such information. In a country like India, it is all the more important as sometimes you can buy almost anything including private information for a price. This would be a recipe for chaos and needs to be addressed as a critical piece in our journey on the digital ladder.

No journey is without its pitfalls, but that does not mean we do not embark on the same. A start has been made. We look with interest as to how the journey unfolds and how it integrates into the very fibre of our lives. Its time for the government not to let down its constituents who have already accepted this disruptive change in their lives.

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