High speed access to the internet can let the citizens of the country avail a range of banking, governance, medical and educational services. According to the data released by TRAI, internet subscription grew by almost ten percent in 2016. Over 93 percent of the access was provided through mobile internet. Telecom companies have significantly boosted the adoption of internet in India but the speeds still remain low.
There are only 300 million smartphone users in India, which is less than a fourth of the total projected population of the country. Providing internet access to a majority of the population remains a problem.
India’s internet access presents a story of contradictions. It is home to 355 million users second only to China. At the same time it is also home to the largest number of people, nearly a billion, not connected to the internet. For about 40 percent of these unconnected the barriers to gaining benefit from digital content is not affordability or accessibility. Their barriers lie elsewhere. Firstly, most of the digital content today is in languages that a majority of such untouched population in India would find difficult to understand. Two, knowledge is scattered across the digital world.
For example a simple Google search on Bhamashah (a social security scheme in Rajasthan named after a famed historical figure) gives 351000 results, not all of them unique. If the search is more generic like Education or health the results multiply dramatically. Hence it is easy to get lost in the Digital world and feel it is such a waste of time. What if rich, on-demand content could be provided to users across the country, through a screen they already have. What if interactive services could be provided via televisions?
The innovative initiative is known as Project DRUV, and is a project of Tata Trusts. By offering relevant curated content, DRUV aims to get rural homes to benefit from the digital world just as their urban counterparts have. DRUV attempts to make access to digital knowledge easy and effective. It does this by offering curated, relevant content accessible on the television screen and not requiring a keyboard for interface. The TV is a familiar hardware in most residences. Nearly 60 percent of rural homes in India have access to a TV. The access to the curated digital content does not require a browser.
Enabling access to digital content without a browser means there is no need to use keyboards that are confusing for people with low literacy levels and low digital literacy levels. Using a simple TV like remote for interface significantly reduces the barrier of literacy levels required for accessing digital knowledge. A set top box that communicates to the internet over a dongle or wifi and connected to the TV converts it to a convenient access point for digital knowledge by enabling information and transaction.
DRUV has content on Digital Citizenship, education, health & nutrition, jobs and locally relevant current affairs. It also has the ability to enable transactions through a wallet. The focus of the content on DRUV is on providing “knowledge” through digital media and not on entertainment and social media for which most the digital technologies is otherwise used for.
DRUV has been launched in Rajasthan, and has reached 5,000 homes in the state. There are plans to expand the project to other states in the country soon, and the respective state governments are expected to support the project. There is a commitment to installing the set top boxes in 100,000 households. The project aims to eventually build a thriving and vibrant rural digital ecosystem and do its bit for the Digital India mission.