Digital divide curbs vaccine access


  • The government-mandated online registration process for COVID-19 vaccination has starkly exposed the digital divide in Telangana, with the Internet-savvy urban population cornering access while the poorer, less aware rural people are left out as the second phase is rolled out.
  • Unable to find online slots in the Twin Cities, several urban residents are zeroing in on available slots in the countryside for their vaccination even though it might mean a drive of nearly 100 km. While the digitally savvy city-dwellers are happily walking out after a jab, the local villagers are struggling to book slots.

Digital Divide 

  • The Digital Divide, also called the digital split, is a social issue referring to the gap that exists between individuals who have access to modern information and communication technology and those who lack access.
  • It represents the disparities between demographics and regions at different social, economic levels or other categories over the use of Internet and communication technologies.
  • The digital divide can exist between those living in rural areas and those living in urban areas, between the educated and uneducated, between economic classes, and on a global scale between more and less industrially developed nations.

Digital Divide in India 

The digital divide exists despite the increase in the number of wireless subscribers in India over the past few years. A few facets are as mentioned below-

The Urban-Rural divide   

  • The digital divide between India’s rural and urban areas during the lockdown is not just highlighted in Education but is evident everywhere be it telemedicine, e-commerce, banking, e-governance, all of which became accessible only through the internet during the lockdown. Services such as online classrooms, financial transactions and e-governance require access to the internet as well as the ability to operate internet-enabled devices like phones, tablets and computers. 
  • As per the report by NSO, most of the Internet-enabled homes are located in cities, where 42% have Internet access. In rural India, however, only 15% are connected to the internet.
  • Across India, only one in ten households have a computer — whether a desktop, laptop or tablet. Almost 25% of all homes have Internet facilities, accessed via a fixed or mobile network using any device, including smartphones.
  • The urban-rural disparity of the digital divide is evident from the internet penetration in the country. As per the NSO, There is less than 20% Internet penetration, even in States with software hubs such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. 

Gender Digital inequalities 

  • Only 21% of women in India in comparison to 42% of men are mobile internet users, according to GSMA’s 2020 mobile gender gap report. The report says, while 79% of men own a mobile phone in India where the number for women is 63%. 
  • While there are economic barriers to girls’ own a mobile phone or laptop, cultural and social norms also play a major part. 
  • The male-female gap in mobile use often exacerbates other inequalities for women, including access to information, economic opportunities, and networking.

Regional Digital Divide and Intra-State Digital inequality  

  • In terms of people that have access to computers or in the know-how to use the internet, States too greatly differ in the matrices. 
  • Southern states are more digitally literate than their Northern counterparts. Kerala is the state where the difference between rural and urban areas is the least. 
  • Uttarakhand has the most number of computers in urban areas, while Kerala has the most number of computers in rural areas. 
  • Himachal Pradesh leads the country in access to the internet in both rural and urban areas. 
  • While the national capital has the highest Internet access, with 55% of homes having such facilities, Odisha is at the bottom with only one in ten homes having Internet. 
  • While urban areas are more digitally literate, rural counterpart are lacking in the respective states Kerala has the least inequality with more than 39% of the poorest rural homes having Internet, in comparison to 67% of the richest urban homes, where Assam shows the striking inequality, with almost 80% of the richest urban homes having the Internet access and 94% of those in the poorest rural homes in the State don’t have the access.

Disparity due to literacy/digital literacy 

  • Internet access is no guarantee that one can use it. 20% of Indians above the age of 5 years had basic digital literacy. 
  • Just 40% in the critical age group of 15 to 29 years, which includes all high school and college students as well as young parents responsible for teaching younger children. 
  • More than one in five Indians above 7 years still cannot read and write in any language. 
  • Over the last decade, literacy rates have increased from 71.7% to 77.7%, with the highest gains coming among rural women. 
  • A State-wise split of literacy rates also throws up some unexpected results. Andhra Pradesh has the country’s lowest literacy rate, at just 66.4%, significantly lower than less developed States such as Chhattisgarh (77.3%), Jharkhand (74.3%), Uttar Pradesh (73%), and Bihar (70.9%). 
  • Kerala remains at the top of the pile with 96.2% literacy, followed by three northern States: Delhi (88.7%), Uttarakhand (87.6%) and Himachal Pradesh (86.6%). 

Linguistic Digital Divide 

  • More than 80% of the content on the Internet is in English, so states, where people are more competent in English, are more digitally competent.
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