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From Jio to demonetisation, Digital India keeps failing

The Jio 4G service, in a way, is supposed to fix this issue of poor digital infrastructure and make the dream of Digital India come true. But the problem for Jio is that it has to start somewhere. And the point from which it is starting is so low, all due to India’s inefficiencies in the digital that it is finding it difficult to take off. India is a bandwidth starved country, so thousands have jumped on to the Jio hoping to get the cheap data that people in other countries can access. Result? Jio is now totally clogged. The rush is so high that probably even Jio people didn’t anticipate it and the service is now sputtering.

In fact, every problem with Jio can be attributed to the India’s poor digital infrastructure. The country doesn’t have enough spectrum, which is by the way the fault of government. The country doesn’t have enough wired connections, which is failure of both the government and private telecom operators. Lack of this wired connectivity means a wireless service like Jio can’t cope with demand for high-speed data. The telecom infrastructure, including interconnection capacity, is poor in India, leading failure of voice calls. The overall level of digitisation is poor, leading to the delays in Jio connection activation. The list is long.

As people rush to ATMs, as well as increasingly use cards, there is congestion. Reports of ATMs failing due to limited capacity and congestion have come in. In many stores people have found their card transactions failing because there is just too much load on the network.

And now we are seeing a repeat of the same failure of Digital India, which actually doesn’t exist, when it comes to the demonetisation. The problems once again are with the underlying digital infrastructure. There are just not enough people on the web in India to make the large scale demonetisation ordered by the government a success. While 86 per cent cash has been taken out of the economy, there aren’t enough people with plastic and digital money in the country to ensure a seamless transition while the government replaces the Rs 500 and the Rs 1000 notes.

Then there are the same-old problems with the network in India. As people rush to ATMs, as well as increasingly use cards, there is congestion. Reports of ATMs failing due to limited capacity and congestion have come in. Then there are the reports of payment gateways, which facilitate the card payments, slowing down or even failing. In many stores people have found their card transactions failing because there is just too much load on the network.

The vision of this government as well as the earlier one is right when it comes to the future of India. It’s true that India needs to move to everything digital, or at least towards everything that is possible. But unless the basic digital infrastructure is not in the place, it is futile to bring in the big bang plans.

In today’s world almost everything requires robust internet connectivity and that is one area where the Digital India keeps failing. According to Akamai, which comes out with a state of internet report every quarter, the internet speed in India is among lowest in the world. India also has one of the lowest density of computers and one of the least robust telecom networks. It is also, despite its IT super-power status, a country that has least digitally-aware population.

All of these underlying, basic, problems need fixing before big plans, which rely on robust web access and digital tools, can succeed. Without a network that can effectively deal with the great rush that India can produce, the Digital India cannot succeed.

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