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World Bank points to India's digital divide

The World Bank has praised India as a global IT powerhouse, but has warned a huge majority of the nation's population remains locked out of the benefits of the digital economy. Internet access was crucial, it said.

A new World Bank report launched in India on Tuesday said the aggregate impact of highly advanced digital technologies in the Asian nation was still unevenly distributed.

It called on the government to make greater efforts to connect more people to the Internet and create an environment that would unleash the benefits of the digital era for everyone.

The report noted that at least 8 in 10 Indians owned a mobile phone, with digital technologies spreading rapidly in the emerging economy. But nearly a billion people were still not connected to the Internet, the document added.

Watch video 03:43

Internet for rural India

Disparities in evidence

The World Bank praised India for its early success in digital technology when it became a global powerhouse for information services, mentioning that India was currently the largest exporter of information and communications technology (ICT) services and skilled manpower in the developing world.

But the lender's report also highlighted a striking imbalance in the country itself, with the adoption of digital technologies being very advanced in government institutions and relatively low in businesses, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises.

By the end of 2014, fewer than two out of every five Indian businesses had an online presence, compared with almost two-thirds of firms in China. The World Bank said residential broadband service in India was six to 10 times more expensive than in the Middle Kingdom.

The report argued India needed to strengthen the "analog foundations" of its digital economy - training workers in new skills and beefing up regulations to ensure fair competition.

"Skills and access, that's the key," the World Bank's country director for India, Onno Ruhl, said in a statement. "India has all the other elements, but that is what will really make it an inclusive revolution."

hg/cjc (AFP, World Bank)

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