Over the last two decades, a considerable uptake has been witnessed in the number of people with access to digital devices and solutions. The Internet penetration rate in India went up to almost 48.7% in 2022, compared to only about 4% in 2007. India also ranked second in the world in terms of the number of active internet users, and its digital population amounted to around 692 million active users as of February 2023.
Indians have truly welcomed digital living with open arms over time. A variety of internet activities are carried out across the nation every moment of every day for education, shopping, research, entertainment, and more. But unfortunately, access to the internet and technological advances have not been linear for all communities. More than 700 million people in India, largely residing in over 20,000 villages across distinctive remote locations, do not have access to modern technology or the internet and continue to remain unconnected.
The number of internet connections across India will have tripled in urban areas by 2021. However, urban areas account for a much higher density of connections in comparison to rural areas. Regardless of quite affordable internet prices, internet usage in the nation has a long way to go to reach its full potential. The tangible rural divide and lack of awareness lie at the heart of the matter, with budget-friendly mobile handsets and internet connections presenting just a partial solution.
The Issue of the Digital Divide
The term “digital divide” implies a gap between diverse individuals and communities that do and do not have access to internet connectivity. This connectivity pertains to the distinctive digital capabilities and capacities of varied communities through ICT, or information and communication technology, and services. It refers to the components and infrastructure that facilitate modern computing and tends to correlate directly to their socioeconomic well-being. Owing to the rapid digital transformation witnessed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-growing importance of the internet, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed even pointed out that the digital divide has the potential to be the “new face of inequality.”
As you move from an Indian metropolis and travel to remote parts of a specific state, there is a good chance that you will experience a lack of network connectivity. Even if you get connectivity, it might be pretty unreliable and spotty. In the absolute last mile of the nation, in villages with about 2000–5000 people or even fewer, internet availability continues to be limited or possibly absent.
Bridging the Divide with Cloud
The lack of access to digital services in rural India has largely been due to the absence of digital infrastructure. However, it is imperative to understand that ISPs and network operators must also bear major infrastructure expenses to provide their services. Their profitability mainly depends on the number of users available in a particular location multiplied by the average revenue earned from those users. Owing to the low purchasing power of the users and the sparse population in many Indian villages and other remote regions, it does not always make economic sense for network operators to extend their services. Hence, the onus of digital connectivity tends to depend on the government for these regions.
About 20,000 villages in the country, mostly in the north-east, tend to lack reliable internet connections. The government is carrying out discerning initiatives like the Vibrant Village Program, PM Gati Shakti, and Model Villages under the Border Area Development Program that emphasize bridging the digital divide. However, in order to help people in India’s remote regions gain access to digital services, such as healthcare and education, it is crucial for the private sector to work with government organizations. This will go a long way toward improving the quality of life and livelihood opportunities of individuals in Indian villages and remote communities.
STL Garv – What is it?
STL GARV is a rural development initiative undertaken by Sterlite Technologies Ltd. Digital (STL Digital). It is a digital access point for villages that supports access to several digital infrastructures and services for rural communities. This project is meant to instill a sense of equality and pride, or “garv,” in people across several Indian villages. STL GARV aims to make use of BharatNet to bridge not only the rural-urban digital divide but also between rural areas and the rest of the world while also improving the quality of life and opportunities available to rural people.
Garv is an advanced cloud platform that puts emphasis on enhancing and accelerating the use of digital technologies in rural areas of India. This platform has many features, from multi-directional microphones and cameras to an interactive screen, a biometric check, and an ultrasound sensor for gestures. It essentially provides a robust, comprehensive suite of applications and digital solutions through a strategic partnership model and has managed to transform more than 53,000 lives in rural India. STL GARV leverages cloud computing innovations to meet the needs of an entire cross-section of villagers.
At the launch event of STL Garv, the then CEO of NITI Aayog, Amitabh Kant, underlined that when the lives of rural people get transformed, so does the nation, and by transforming rural lives, STL Garv shall talk about this technology revolution in rural India. STL GARV has been designed to improve and transform rural lives with the help of services like telemedicine, e-tutoring citizen services, assisted e-commerce, and more while using BharatNet connectivity.
Services of STL GARV
- E-Education: Digital technologies allow people in rural areas to access improved education quality. With live and recorded lectures and online study materials, rural students can acquire and hone important knowledge and skills required to compete and be successful in the modern world. STL GARV makes learning both engaging and convenient for rural students and paves the way for a brighter future.
- Assisted e-Commerce: E-commerce has become quite a rage in India. However, a large percentage of e-commerce activities were limited to only the urban areas for a long time. STL GARV supports the process of purchasing goods and availing services online with the assistance of VLE. Such solutions increase the convenience of the rural populace and provide a much-needed boost to its economy by fostering entrepreneurship and employment opportunities.
- E-Healthcare: Digital healthcare has the potential to prevent disease and lower healthcare costs to a great extent. Moreover, telemedicine programs can potentially transform the healthcare system functions in rural areas and solve the issue of transport limitations. With the help of technology, the best doctors can now cater to patients living in remote areas of the country. Moreover, with e-healthcare, rural people get improved access to quality healthcare without having to bear high expenses.
- Government at the doorstep: Lack of awareness and accessibility hinders many rural people from availing important citizen-centric government services and schemes. With assisted digital services, such people can do their Aadhaar registration, enroll in government schemes, and more right from their doorstep.
The digital divide is not something that urban people think about too much. But a lack of internet access can marginalize people economically, socially, and even politically. Due to the lack of access to digital technology, rural people miss out on simple things that urban dwellers may take for granted today, like learning new skills or shopping online. Rural communities are often left behind due to inadequate access to digital technologies.
Fortunately, many initiatives have been undertaken to close this digital divide and improve access to digital technology, STL GARV by STL Digital being one of them. Such initiatives help connect rural people to the world at large and bring them greater opportunities, prosperity, and health.
1. What languages does STL Garv support?
The STL Garv platform supports major Indian languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Telugu and is expected to extend to other official Indian languages in the future.
2. Is a wireless connection possible with STL Garv?
Yes. Local operators can offer wireline or wireless connections to people in rural areas using STL Garv.
3. Where is the STL Garv service operational?
At the moment, STL Garv is present in 14 villages across Maharashtra and Goa.
4. What are the major services provided by the STL Garv platform?
STL Garv offers e-education, e-healthcare, government, and assisted eCommerce services.