India makes IT a national priority

THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT HAS PROMISED 700,000 km of new broadband cable.

In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed technology executives at the India Leadership Forum held by the software lobby group Nasscom. “The IT sector can be the shining light of brand India,” said Modi, as he stressed the importance of reducing the digital divide by making optical networks and broadband as accessible as roads and electricity. In the time since Modi delivered this talk, the Indian government has pledged to lay 700,000 kilometers of broadband cable as part of an $18 billion plan to bring the digital age to even the most remote Indian villages. The economic returns from this plan are predicted to be positive by consulting firm McKinsey, which estimates a possible $70 billion GDP increase over the next four years. IBM and Cisco Systems predict business opportunities in the software and network hardware markets due to Modi’s initiative.

India has faced infrastructure related challenges in the past. A power outage in 2012 affected half the Indian population and became the largest recorded power outage in history. India continues to deal with an unreliable electrical grid, raising questions of whether the government’s priority of bringing broadband to the masses is aligned with the nation’s actual infrastructural needs. Vinod Kumar Tripathi, an urban planner in India, expressed concern about basic services such as housing, roads, and waste management when asked about Modi’s focus on IT. The government under Modi agrees that basic services continue to require attention and investment, but technological progress is an ambition that requires a long-term outlook. “When [these] activities pick up, the digital divide will go away, [and] the IT industry will flourish and our country will progress,” Modi said, when speaking about the importance of social media in society and government.

Modi’s full commitment to a modern digital economy for India is evident in the details of his administration’s IT plan. By 2020 the government expects the creation of 100 new digitally equipped “Smart Cities” that rely heavily on electronic platforms to increase access to education and health records. A Corporate Social Responsibility network that will bring companies together to monitor the performance of children in school is being implemented to reduce dropout rates by an estimated five to seven percent. The plan also outlines the implementation of street-level Wi-Fi connectivity at over 2,500 locations. Officials hope the improved connectivity will allow travelers to check for traffic information and help local authorities manage communities more effectively. In 2014, the Internet was used by 12.58 percent of India’s 1.2 billion person population. By 2017 the government expects that number to rise to over 30 percent of the population.

India is facing the obstacles of transforming a newly industrialized economy into a digital one, while at the same time improving access to basic services. Modi believes pursuing modernization and digitalization simultaneously is worthwhile. “I know [technology] will transform our lives.”