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What challenges does Nepal face to narrow down the digital divide in Nepal, and how are the telecom companies playing their role? We will delve into them in detail below.
To begin let’s start with what is the digital divide? In its simplest terms, it is the gulf between people who have access to the internet and those who don’t. But broadly, it encompasses the usual internet connectivity too, smartphones, computers other communication infrastructures. These days the idea of the digital divide has become a recurring catchphrase referring to the accessibility of a population to communication.
As Nepal takes a new leap with evolving and growing communication milestones, narrowing the digital divide also becomes a crucial aspect of it.
On the surface, Nepal is growing digital at a rapid pace. Digital wallets are omnipotent, online bank transactions are reaching new milestones each month and the cashless economy is growing. Moreover, online entrepreneurship and work from home have also emerged as the result of the COVID-19 lockdowns effect. But the access to digital tools and literacy is still in want of attention.
As per NTA, Nepal’s total voice telephony penetration is at 138.94% and overall broadband penetration remains at 119.49% of Nepal’s total population. But this becomes unflattering when we break down the total broadband data. Out of the 119.49% of total broadband users, 89% have the availability of mobile broadband (3G/4G). Meanwhile, only 29.79% have access to fixed-line broadband internet.
But it is even more unpleasant. We should be aware that in fixed-line broadband, 1 connection equals 4.88 subscribers (as per NTA). The total fixed-broadband comprises lease-line, ADSL, and Fiber internet that has a total of 89 lakhs, 25 thousand, and 881. That is just below 18 lakh, and 30 thousand ‘unique connections’. These data allow us to derive that when it comes to the convenience of home WiFi, a large percentage of Nepali are still at a disadvantage.
Find out: Fiber Internet Users in Nepal
This disconnected population largely consists of those living far-flung from the urban trade centers. Particularly, those in Far-Western, Karnali, and Northern Nepal’s remote regions are yet to get a reliable fiber link. Making it worse, this ‘excluded’ group is also liable to deprivation from cellular services.
The topic of the digital divide in Nepal must also revolve around access to devices and gadgets that have connectivity such as mobile phones, computers, IoT, etc. More than 70% in Nepal have a smartphone in their hands but not all have the benefits of using a computer. The smart home and IoT are yet to materialize in Nepal.
Check out: Smartphone Penetration in Nepal
With the general and specific statistics, the question begs why does the digital divide exist in Nepal?
The digital divide in Nepal exists for various reasons spanning gender, and geography to the government’s unfair practices.
There is less chance for a female to use a mobile phone, computer, or be online than a male. Particularly, in most agrarian parts of Nepal, the is a gender gap in digital access. Social media has narrowed the gap as females have taken to TikTok, IMO and other platforms, the female gender is still short of online access.
Nepal is still among the countries paying heavily for the internet. On average, a fixed-line internet subscription costs around Rs.900 for a basic internet plan. The cellular data packs with a longer validity also cost around the same. For Nepal with per capita of $920, the internet price is way too much.
That means much of the population with a moderate income (working class) has no round-the-clock access to the internet. And depending on shared internet compromises the quality of access to one aspires. They are likely to fall short of benefitting from the perks of the internet’s good use.
Those poverty-stricken groups don’t carry a smartphone or they don’t own a modern phone that allows newer and better broadband connections. Such underprivileged groups won’t have tablets or laptops either or they have these gadgets but no broadband access.
Similarly, we should also not ignore the physically impaired individuals who unfortunately can’t benefit directly from communication tools and gadgets. And those who are already working from early on in their age may not prioritize digital skills either.
Even with all the hardware available, the poor internet connection or the lack of it drives down the online penetration. Low education levels and digital illiteracy also contribute to the digital divide.
Check out: How to improve internet speed at your home?
One of the perils of Nepal is its uneven terrain makes it very difficult to erect base stations and other dedicated hardware to establish communications and broadband internet. Over 70% of Nepal’s total land spans hills and mountainous regions. Much of the communication-friendly areas are still trade centers, valleys, and the Terai. This delays laying the tools and equipment for communications for service providers.
Check out: How to get an internet connection in Nepal?
If we observe, most newer and latest communication services and offers to kick off from the capital, or main cities. The trails take months to years, and then the service providers set up infrastructures to roll out service commercially around the country. Such practice keeps people living beyond and away from the capital and cities at a disadvantage.
It’s not the deliberate neglect from the service providers. Setting up equipment and running the trials in cities remain feasible but it takes years for other areas to receive the service. New services can’t run at once across the country, but the service providers can accelerate their expansion that betters digital inclusion.
Recently Ntc made nationwide headlines after the telco’s deputy manager Sangita Pahadi stated that the works are ongoing to drive down data prices by 15 – 20%. Likewise, the fiber internet has seen a most remarkable revolution in its history this year. The bumped-up speed has also led to low-cost packages in the market. But the government can encourage it further by relaxing the taxes.
Nepali telecom companies pay their 30% income tax to the government. The government has slapped tax schemes on the telecom sector as on banks and tobacco industries. If such tax policies are toned down, the service providers could afford an affordable connection for all.
Check out: Best Internet Service Providers in Nepal
Learning how to get going with the internet and devices is necessary to reap the benefits of ICT. As societies grow more tech-friendly, not knowing how to navigate through hardware and software is a major shortcoming no one can afford to have.
Through school, workshops, and training the local or central authorities could foster digital literacy to help the youth be more familiar with the internet, technology, and gadgets.
Nepal is an ICT-friendly country. The youth attraction toward the digital mode of life is growing. Various events such as ICT Awards, Digital Nepal Conclave, CAN Infotech and others are organized that promote individual and collective ICT initiatives. So the government can also amplify its efforts by offering scholarships to more students to lay the foundation for Digital Nepal in later years.
This is also important because many driven and motivated students fail to realize their IT goals simply for a lack of finances. Lifting their economic burden would greatly help them pursue their dreams and also help our society narrow down the digital gulf. We are not complaining about the government’s efforts though.
4G broadband has reached all 77 districts but many local levels still remain without basic voice telephony. The same goes for fiber broadband services. The telcos for their credit are doing their best. Ntc has begun 4G at several remote locations including Pathivara, Rara, etc., and launched Namaste WiFi for areas with no fiber link. There is news that private telco Ncell is erecting dedicated 4G cell towers at the Everest base camp.
Ntc is also prepping for 5G trials this year and Ncell won’t take long we believe. But still, the service provider can do better. For a country that has brought 3G and 4G for the first time in South Asia, ahead of India, we should expect rapid expansion and faster launch of newer services.
In a recent drive test by NTA, all cellular providers failed to live up to the regulator’s voice call parameters. While there are loud voices among the consumers regarding poor internet services from broadband providers.
Frequent Disconnection, poor connectivity, and network outages have irritated many users. Service providers need to address these voices by improving their technologies or by any means necessary. Disconnection is the least every netizen turned user expects these days.
Closing the gap of the digital divide in Nepal also requires wide access to electronic gadgets. Ensuring that most Nepali populations, particularly the students and youth have laptops desktops, or other audio-visual devices for their online presence will boost digital literacy.
Having a device to connect helps individuals cultivate their familiarity with ICT and hone their skills. As these devices might not come easily for many Nepali families, the government, organizations, and local bodies can distribute or sell them at a discount to students and those who need them. This will certainly inspire higher digital interest and serve ICT growth.
The benefits of Digital Inclusion:
Bridging the digital gap means better digital inclusion and it brings several benefits.
As Nepal waits on the revolutionary 5G cellular network, once again the digital divide will be a topic among many. We expect the newer and more advanced technologies to help close down the gap and promote digital inclusion in near future and allow all to reap the benefits of a growing digital environment.
How can we bridge the digital divide in Nepal? Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments below.
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