India last among BRICS in Web index

India ranks behind China and other BRICS nations in a comprehensive index aimed at measuring the Internet’s contribution to social, economic and political progress.

Though China is notorious for its great Internet firewall, the nation is far ahead of India when it comes to translating the power of the Internet into economic potential, says the Web Index released by the World Wide Web Foundation on Thursday.

India’s low ranking among BRICS countries in the “economic impact” sub-index is especially stinging, coming as it does on the heels of the Delhi government’s decision to ban all app-based taxi services.

“China has more citizens online,” says Gabe Trodd, a spokesperson for the foundation. “Chinese people also seem to be reaping greater benefits from the Web in both social and economic terms,” he said.

India’s Internet penetration rate is comparable to Nepal or Namibia’s, and despite promises of a digital revolution, the Web is still inaccessible to a large swathe of the population, says the report.

Affordability is India’s biggest concern as the cost of broadband access in the country is greater than in countries in the neighbourhood such as Bangladesh. “Making Internet access more affordable is critical for fighting inequality and creating jobs,” the report says.

Yet, in the poorest countries, the relative costs of basic Internet access remain over 80 times higher than in the rich world — a phenomenon that seems to be widening existing inequalities.

“Currently, the means and freedom to fully utilise the Web are within reach of only one in seven people on the planet,” the report’s authors note. “While over four billion people enjoy no rights to the Internet at all, the rights of another two billion Internet users are severely restricted.”

Such restrictions are also on the rise because of pervasive government censorship and snooping. The general outlook on privacy and online freedom of expression in South Asia is “gloomy,” says Trodd citing laws such as India’s Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, which gave undue powers to government agencies to intercept communications.