On World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, VoicenData touches upon the digital divide in India and the role of startups in closing the gap.

Digital Divide: On World Telecommunications Day, India’s startups pledge to address the widest gap

Set on — Bridging the Standardization Gap — as the theme for 2019’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, today, May 17th, the global telecommunications industry at large is celebrating the day. This year marks the 50th anniversary, and it is on this day that was marked originally as the founding of International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 1865. This was when the first International Telegraph Convention was signed in Paris. Setting standards is a fundamental pillar of ITU’s mission as the specialized agency of the United Nations for information and communication technologies (ICTs). ITU standards help accelerate ICTs for all Sustainable Development Goals.

As India would also be part of the standardization process, VoicenData in another relevant angle brings to fore on how there is still a large digital gap in India and how startups are working on addressing this gap. As a developing country, Digital Divide, in India is very prominent and the country at large reflects a wide gap that exists between those who have access to ICTs and those who do not. Although a number of policy revisions by the Government bodies have come in place to address the need to take ICT solutions to the length and breadth of the country, there exists a gaping gap. But to worry not! India’s startup companies are backing us with a constant endeavor to close the gap.

Rural India, as much as urban India, is in dire need of several tech-enabled solutions to make their lives more prosperous. ICT is vested with that superpower to create inclusion and sustainable goals in all aspects that have a very direct relationship to the economic growth of India. Therefore, there is a global call to address the Internet divide between the rural and urban areas in India. Be it in agriculture, medicine, banking or education, technologies, and new age solutions can spin a solution to any problem. In each of these verticals mentioned, thousands of startups are developing solutions putting the best of their innovative skills.

The availability and accessibility of smartphones, laptops and high-speed voice and data networks, in urban and rural India, have also culminated to bringing about the necessary tools to address the gap. Since the intervention of these communication tools and gadgets has grown, startups are more confident in providing new-age solutions that can ease one’s life. The advent of e-commerce and its large players like Flipkart, Amazon, Myntra, etc., have all touched our lives be it in urban, semi-urban or rural India. Last mile connectivity is the umbrella word for solutions under it.

India’s startup industry has proved its efficiency in bringing out several innovative solutions, and young entrepreneurs are completely aware and are being very patriotic in designing products that can address this digital divide. Among most rural demands, providing a basic to an advanced educational system has topped the list. It is believed that giving Internet access to rural school going children can bring several changes to India’s economic progress. Let’s take Chotta Internet for example. Chhota Internet has an innovative solution designed to strengthen the content delivery system in rural India, where internet connectivity is an issue. It provides multimedia education tools, without banking on internet connectivity. The company also provides free Wi-Fi access to the relevant content to the audience through e-Books, audio- and video-based lectures without the need of Internet and at no recurring cost. Chhota Internet’s solutions solve issues related to information dissemination to the remotest area. Empowering schools with such a facility only mean that we are empowering more talent and that talent will the ultimate reflection to a skillful delivery in any profession.

Today, India is a symbol of a Digital Powerhouse. Our country’s startups are very aware that harnessing new-age solutions like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT, Virtual Reality, Cybersecurity, Chatbots, etc. will result in solutions that can solve hoards of problems.

Sharing his viewpoint on the advent of new age solutions in banking and fin-tech, Neel Juriasingani, CEO & co-Founder, Datacultr, said, “As we celebrate World Telecommunication Day, it is important to recapitulate that there are millions of people in India who are still deprived of the benefits of a smartphone. We believe that low-cost loans to people in tier-3 cities, largely to purchase smartphones will allow people from different social classes and with No credit scores or low scores, to reap benefits of a connected digital world. This will ensure that a maximum number of people across the country, even those in the hinterland, is connected to the mainstream. In achieving this, fintech startups will play a key role by using technologies like IoT, AI, ML, etc. to bring these first-to-credit people under the digital umbrella and will help them stay connected while building a positive credit score.”

Subramanian NN, Director-Delivery and co-Founder, Maveric Systems, puts forth his views on banking for rural India. He says, “For a country to be fully developed, rural development has to take place. Lately, rural development has become the new buzz word for developing economies. Today, when we say banking in urban areas, we talk about disruptive technology like Internet Banking, Digital wallets etc, these technologies are increasingly changing the way we go about our day-to-day lives, but it appears that efforts towards reaching the last mile rural areas are just not in the right direction. However, with the advancement of technology and the emergence of low-cost banking channels, there are solutions available today to assist banks to extend their reach to rural areas. By building the right ecosystems, banks and rural people both can win. If the banking industry takes initiatives to provide technology solutions, it can help the Indian government deal with financial transaction transparency and pushing India towards digital economy.”

Telemedicine is fast emerging as the solution to solve several health-related crises in rural India. Communicable and Non-communicable diseases require early intervention that prevents unwarranted death and loss of lives in rural India and telemedicine can bring that early intervention is saving a life. Prasad Kompalli, CEO and co-Founder, mfine, has a point to share. He says, “Healthcare, especially in developing nations like India, is poised to gain great benefit from Artificial Intelligence. With Machine Learning combined with standardized medical protocols and deep domain knowledge-base, we are able to create a very powerful virtual assistant to doctors. Doctors are 3 to 4 times more efficient in delivering quality care to people. AI combined with mobile tech is significantly solving the access issue. AI can augment doctor’s capacity solving the poor doctor-patient ration and mobile is powerful in removing distance barriers. At mfine, we have seen people from over 800 small towns and villages consult with reputed doctors in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, and Chennai.”

Agriculture, being the backbone of India’s economy, has been the best benefiter for the new-age solutions. Several initiatives by startups have brought about applications that can save a farmer and his practices from failing in crop cultivations. Startups have provided Apps, drones, e-portals, e-trading, e-logistics, e-commerce, etc to boost agribusiness in India. It is true that the solutions provided by several startups like CropIn, Ninjacart, StellApps, etc. have eased farming practices at large. Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and other service providers are also in support of India’s agribusiness. The service providers provide a slew of services and mobile agriculture plans and data packs that can help ease their day to day communication.

In conclusion, it is only fair to say that India’s startup world is doing much more than its part to bridge the Digital Divide. As you know, mentioned here are only a minuscule of the large startup population in India who are relentlessly working on solutions that have the power to transform our lives from better to best, empowering India (not to forget women empowerment) and last mile connectivity.

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