Digital India is a myth

It is true. Digital India Initiative by our present Govt under the leadership of Modi may sound like a step in the right direction. But is it? Ever since Modi has met Zuckerberg, Facebook has been filled with Tricolor dps with people made to believe that India would change. A new digital revolution would usher in. Everyone seems excited. Hyped. Positivity all around. But beneath this huge campaign, therein lies some harsh realities.

Let’s look at them one by one. And then let me know what Digital India are we trying to build.

This was India’s Internet condition in 2013 — India ranks 114th in internet speeds.

And this is the present situation — India loses slowest average Internet speed crown to Indonesia

While you may say that our average Internet speeds have increased from 1.3Mbps to 2Mbps in a 2 year period, its not enough if you want to compete with other nations who have seen a much higher jump across the same period. Also before you attack me that in 2013 government was different or that I should wait for another year, mind you that the second report is from Q2014. And given the fact that nothing much has changed in last 1 year, I don’t expect next year’s report to be any different than this. And this is just report from one source. Story is no less different if you compare it with reports from other sources — India slips in UN’s broadband penetration ranking

So yes. Its 2015 and looks like something is cooking. Well of course. BSNL recently announced raising minimum speeds across all their plans to 2Mbps. Great news? Don’t you think? Well no. Its worst. Let’s look at their new plans.

Source

Yes. 2Mbps with 1GB FUP. This is worst than their old plan wherein you were given a uniform speed. With 2Mbps, you can finish 1GB in like 6–8 hours. And then you would be back on 512Kbps. So basically for you, the plan is unchanged. Yes, you would love the initial boost but there’s nothing much you can do with it given the limit. 1 movie with no browsing and its back to normal. So you see the problem? Unless you revise the definition of Broadband which would also raise the post FUP speeds to minimum 2Mbps, this is still an issue which won’t go away no matter how many companies switch to it. You are still going to get dismal speeds once your data limits (which suck right now) get over.

The low Internet speeds aren’t the only issue here. We have another issue and that is of random bans on sites, mobile internet or our freedom to express in general. Mobile internet gets banned in our country when people protest or when a festival is celebrated. Government’s reasons for such orders range from National security to prevention of rumors or social unrest. Well someone should tell them that its the job of the Police and Intelligence agencies. Banning internet facilities is no way to get around the problem.

It is pretty easy for a film company to get a court order to get ISPs to ban a plethora of sites whenever a new movie is about to release. There is no transparency in such bans. Sometimes sites are banned without any court order as well. We can ban sites like Github just because an inflammatory post which might have been related to some terrorist groups appeared on it. Our ISPs and government heads don’t seem it relevant just to block the offending pages because complete blocks are easier and have better effect.

Governments in our countries are also wary of people criticising them on social media. We have all seen what Article 66(A) did [it may have been removed for now but the problem is still there.] and the Sedition order [again hanging in a balance but does show where our leaders wanna go]. We have arrested people in the past for offending our leaders on Facebook. Even liking those posts can be considered as a crime.

Our government is also not happy with how companies and users like to encrypt their data. They want to keep a track of everything that is being said or posted or shared. No sir. You shouldn’t use encryption. Even though the order was revoked, the intentions are pretty clear. Either they don’t understand the concept of Encryption or they understand it well enough that they don’t want it to become a common thing here.

In last 1 year, data tariffs have been raised by pretty much all companies across all plans. While you may want to blame Telcos for it, truth is when the government thinks its alright to charge License fees to the tune of almost 90000 crores, there is little these companies can do than to absorb the fees in its entirety. While you may argue that this fees isn’t supposed to be paid at once but even then how can government justify this cost? Isn’t it your job to increase competition and penetration? How does these high costs help in achieving that? What kind of Digital India we will build by making everything expensive?

One one hand, you cannot control the price and infact are directly or indirectly responsible for it. On the other hand, there is no check on the quality of the services these Telcos provide. There are no standards or minimum limits on the speeds which they should provide under 4G and 3G connections. We are getting 3G speeds on 4G plans and 2G speeds on 3G plans. Network is poor in major cities.

Municipal corporations in the nation’s capital have free hand in sealing the mobile towers. And then our telecom minister goes ahead saying that the situation is improving. Government is also planning to impose penalty if call drops happen. Do explain how penalties would bring down call drops? Call drops are the result of poor network. Rising price cannot solve the network problem. When your own municipal corporations are doing the damage, you are passing the buck and gaining sympathy in the name of penalties. This is not going to help the situation. Time to go back to the landline era I suppose.

And let’s look at the websites our government have. Compare it someday to the US government websites. IRCTC has been upgraded twice and still can’t handle the load if you want to book a tatkal ticket. The measures meant to fix this issue are seriously a joke. Instead of using more servers, limits have been put on the number of ticket that you can book. Yes. That helps. Had they removed all the ads from the site, site could have become more responsive. But extra revenue is always helpful even if it comes at the cost of user experience. Go to any government website. Finding useful information from them is a herculean task. Which form is available where, even Google fails at these tasks. Finding the right plans on BSNL and MTNL websites looks more difficult than getting 80%+ in school XII board exams. Filling government forms online hardly helps because you still need to run from pillar to post filling the same form again. Things have improved on several fronts like online bill payment but still getting things done at government offices for which forms are available online is still a pain.

I had to fill a form recently for getting name changed on my water bill. I filled the form online along with scanned copies of all required documents. Now there was a limit of 2MB on the upload file. So yes. Imagine that I had to scan a 17 page pdf and had to compress it to that size. Result was crappy. But it would have worked had they just checked on their screens and processed. They tried to print and end result was disastrous. So I had to make proper hard copies and submit the form and everything again at their office. Digital India Indeed.

There are hundreds and thousands of issues about which I can go on regarding Digital India. How online banking still sucks. Try using netbanking of a lesser known govt bank and you would know the horror. Freelancing is still not recognised a proper profession as far as banking and taxing laws is concerned. Paypal is still limited for us for no reason.

Problem is that India can’t go digital unless our administrators understand the need to do it and to do it right. They need to hire the right kind of people to help with the change. Right policies need to be implemented. Tax laws need to be updated. The fact that High speed Internet is actually becoming a necessity in cities has to be recognised. You can’t just ignore these issues and claim that Digital India would happen.

Yes. Google giving free Wifi on 100 train stations is commendable. I trust Google but I don’t trust the government company (Railtel) whose network would be used. Microsoft is working towards bringing Broadband to the villages. I guess they need food, water and proper housing and toilet facilities first. Lay down high speed optical fibre network. Reduce the license fees. Increase the competiton by making BSNL and MTNL offer better plans. Make things easier. Stop the ban culture. Then maybe we can say that Digital India initiative is working. Until then, its just a sham.