(BUSINESS STANDARD) "Digital expansion helps rich more than poor.Gains of higher growth, more jobs and better public services also short of expectation, recommends more focus on access.Critically comment.
• Despite rapid adoption of digital technologies across the world, the anticipated dividends of higher growth, job creation and better public services are well short of expectation.
• Digital technologies have over the past decades succeeded in bringing the excluded sections of society into the formal system. The number of internet users has more than tripled in a decade, reaching an estimated 3.2 billion in 2015.
• In many developing countries, digital platforms have been used to address the problem of 'last mile connectivity'. In India, more households own a mobile phone than have access to electricity or clean water.
• For example, the Aadhaar platform in India has successfully provided unique digital identification to nearly one billion, increased access and reduced corruption in public services. Governments are using the platform to identify recipients of subsidies to prevent leakage.
• In Narma Dih, a village in Bihar lacking access to electricity and all-weather roads, "poor farmers have benefited from digitally enabled agricultural extension services from DigitalGreen, a non-government organisation that trains farmers using locally produced how-to videos". Simple SMS messages have proven effective in reminding people living with HIV to take their life-saving drugs.
• But, despite these benefits, at the aggregate level, the report says the impact of digital technologies has been smaller than expected. Productivity growth has slowed, labour markets have become more polarised and within many countries, inequality has risen.
• To fully reap the digital age's benefits, the Bank argues for ending the digital divide by making access to the internet "universal, affordable, open, and safe" and "strengthening regulations that ensure competition among business, adapting workers' skills to the demands of the new economy, and fostering accountable institutions".
• Governments undoubtedly will play an integral role in bridging the digital divide. Yet, they also need to improve service provider management and increase citizen participation. "Governments need to ensure a business climate in which all firms can easily connect and compete," the report adds.
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