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Rural telecom subscriptions dip by 10 lakh, indicating worsening communication divide

TRAI data doesn’t paint a pretty picture on access to telecom networks in rural India, particularly Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

Rural telecom subscriptions decreased by 10 lakh between April to June this year according to data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in its quarterly performance report. This is the first time since at least June 2020 that the rural subscriber base has seen a net decrease.

“Rural telephone subscribers decreased from 537.42 million at the end of Mar-21 to 536.47 million at the end of Jun-21 and Rural Tele-density also decreased from 60.27% to 60.10% during the same period,” TRAI said in the report.

As government services increasingly rely on access to digital services, there is an urgent need to bridge the digital divide in rural India. A decrease in the rural subscriber base in this context is worrying.

What did TRAI’s performance report reveal about rural subscriptions?

  • Gujarat, Tamil Nadu lose rural subscribers: Telecom subscriptions from rural areas have decreased primarily in Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh East. Out of these states, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have seen the sharpest decreases, with both states losing approximately 3 lakh rural subscribers each.

‘Trends at a glance’ chart from TRAI’s performance indicator report

  • Tele-density: According to TRAI, the tele-density (i.e. the number of telecom connections per 100 people) has also seen a countrywide decrease this quarter from 60.27 to 60.10, with rural areas impacted more than urban areas.
  • Internet subscriptions: While overall telecom subscriptions in rural areas have decreased, the number of rural internet subscribers has increased from 322.77 million to 336.87 million, the TRAI report said.

Supreme Court flags growing digital divide, access to education hurdles

The growing digital divide in India could undermine the right to education of poor children, the Supreme Court highlighted in a judgement on October 8:

The needs of young children who represent the future of the country are being ignored. The State cannot wash its hands off the obligation imposed particularly by Article 21 A of the Constitution. A solution has to be arrived at, at all levels of the government both in the States and in the Centre to ensure that adequate facilities are made available to children across social strata so that access to education is not denied to those who lack resources — the three-judge bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and B.V. Nagarathna noted in an order. (emphasis ours)

The judgement was given in response to a petition by private schools challenging an order by the Delhi High Court directing them to provide online facilities free of cost to students from economically weaker sections.

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