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Digital Inclusion in the Age of Emerging Tech

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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a consultation paper on Digital Inclusion in the Era of Emerging Technologies. It aims to explore and address the challenges and opportunities that come with the rapid development of emerging technologies. The paper emphasises inclusivity for all segments of society and industries, specifically micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

According to a press release, TRAI acknowledges the importance of digital inclusion as a means to empower every citizen at an opportune time. Without this, there’s a risk that disparities in accessing digital services could continue to expand, further excluding significant portions of society from experiencing inclusive growth. In its consultation paper, TRAI underscores the importance of establishing a strong policy framework and fostering cooperation among various stakeholders to guarantee that individuals can actively engage in digital economic activities.

The paper underscores the importance of establishing a strong policy framework and fostering cooperation among various stakeholders to guarantee that individuals can actively participate in digital economic activities.

The release said that the success of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) in establishing an inclusive financial society has garnered recognition on a global scale. The Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity has been important in facilitating transparent direct benefit transfers of welfare subsidies.  The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) system has empowered users to easily send money from one bank account to another in real time.

Despite these accomplishments, it remains evident that disparities in both internet broadband penetration and its effective usage persist among various segments of society and across different geographical regions.

There are concerns regarding the accessibility, affordability, and safe and effective use of services and applications that rely on broadband connections, particularly among marginalised communities, women, and girls. Additionally, there is a need to ensure the participation of micro or small entrepreneurs operating in remote and difficult terrains or rural areas. These concerns must be addressed promptly, the release noted.

TRAI analysed various gaps in digital inclusion that exist within the country presently, including disparities in mobile internet usage, discrepancies in rural and urban internet penetration, gender-based disparities in internet access, and gaps identified through reference to various global indices.

The rapid progression of technological advancements, including the rollout of 5G-enabled services and the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)-based services, brings with it increased costs to adopting and implementing these technologies on a large scale. This could further exacerbate the digital divide, particularly for marginalised communities and underserved regions.

Furthermore, unequal access to infrastructure, limited digital literacy, and affordability issues could hinder the equitable distribution and use of emerging technologies, intensifying pre-existing disparities in digital inclusion.

The consultation paper, aimed at gathering input from the stakeholders, has been made available on TRAI’s website. Stakeholders are encouraged to submit their written comments on the consultation topics by 16 October and counter comments by 31 October.

India has achieved remarkable advancements in its digital transformation journey, emerging as the world’s second-largest telecom market in terms of subscribers. The nation has witnessed substantial growth in mobile broadband subscriptions and internet usage, coupled with a significant decrease in data costs.

Government initiatives, including Digital India, National Digital Communications Policy 2018, National Broadband Mission 2019, BharatNet, Common Service Centres (CSCs), and Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), have been instrumental in extending connectivity and fostering digital inclusion throughout the country.

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