Four years ago, the government launched Digital India to deliver better services and make governance more transparent and inclusive. However, India’s digital divide may be preventing the programme from achieving its desired outcomes, suggests a new study by Jang Bahadur Singh and M. Vimal Kumar of the IIM-Tiruchirappalli.

Their research shows that while mobile phone penetration has grown significantly in India, there remain sharp disparities in how the phones are used. Singh and Kumar categorize Indian mobile phone users into four groups by “feature use". Group 1 mobile phone features rank low in complexity and do not require internet access (such as making or receiving calls). Group 2 features are high in complexity but do not require internet access; while group 3 features are comparatively low in complexity, but need internet access. Finally, group 4 features are both complex and need internet access (e.g. e-commerce and mobile banking applications).

Based on a 2015 survey conducted across 29 Indian states, the authors rank mobile phone usage using this categorization along with demographics and related information. They find that as the complexity of applications and the internet access requirement increases from Groups 1 to 4, the feature-use divide increases between male and female users.

The results indicate that women are more likely to only use the voice call feature in phones. Similarly, people living in urban areas are more likely to use advanced features. Age is another key factor that affects feature use, while education and occupation are found to be less relevant.

For digital India to succeed, access to mobile phones is not enough because of the significant differences that exist in usage, the authors argue.

Without such an understanding of the digital divide, government efforts to digitally empower the marginalized sections of society may not materialize, the authors write.

Also read: From Mobile Access to Use

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