Into the digital divide

  • Nepal’s IT roadmap must be realistic and aligned with the country’s wherewithal
Into the digital divide

Aug 21, 2014-

The internet is truly a modern marvel. No other technology in history has spread as fast as the internet has. Since its inception in the 80s, the internet has permeated almost every facet of modern life, from business and communication to medicine and entertainment. But the crowning achievement of the internet has been the manner in which it has made access to information so much easier. Websites like Wikipedia have done wonders for the collective education of an internet-savvy generation with basic encyclopaedic information at the tips of its fingers. Those with access are increasingly relying on the internet for news, moving away from traditional media like newspapers, television and radio. With the exponential growth of the internet, a marked shift away from traditional models of communication and information sharing is being seen. Everything, it seems, is moving into the digital realm.

As of 2013, close to 40 percent of the world population had access to and was actively using the internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Nepal ranks 167th in the world, with an internet penetration of only 11 percent. This number, however, is bound to grow steadily in the coming years, spurred in part by the efforts of districts like Myagdi, which is soon planning to declare the district a free WiFi zone. With support from Mahabir Pun’s Nepal Wireless Networking Project, the Myagdi District Development Committee (DDC) hopes to install 16 repeater towers in various places to provide free access to the internet to all residents within the year. This is an ambitious plan that, if realised, has the potential to make Myagdi an IT hub. Not only will free internet bring the world to Myagdi’s residents but it could also attract technology start-ups and business ventures that rely on robust IT infrastructure to set up in Myagdi.

The rest of Nepal would do well to learn from Myagdi’s example. It is not the provision for free WiFi access that must be replicated but Myagdi’s initiative in attempting to meet the information age head on. Policymakers have come up with a National Information Technology Roadmap 2014-2019, but the goals are wildly unrealistic. Nepal places 164th on the UN e-readiness survey but the Roadmap envisions a Nepal where every government service can be availed of through the internet. It would, therefore, be wise of policymakers to temper their goals to better align with Nepal’s wherewithal. An additional danger in this IT pursuit is a widening of the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. The internet is a great leveller of fields but in some cases, it can exacerbate existing social and structural inequalities. For example, twice the number of urban households has access to the internet when compared to rural households, according to the 2011 census. Such discrepancies will have to be kept in mind. But to begin with, a national fund to partially bankroll initiatives similar to Myagdi’s across the nation, with a particular focus on rural areas, would be a start. 

Published: 22-08-2014 09:13

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