The government's much-touted Digital India drive doesn't seem to have made much headway, as India ranks a lowly 91 out of 139 countries on the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) 2016, a key component of the World Economic Forum's The Global Information Technology Report 2016.
What is worse, the country has slipped from a much better 68th out of 144 countries in 2013, showing not only that the digital revolution has failed to gather momentum, but that other countries have progressed much faster.
The report assesses the state of networked readiness of 139 economies using the NRI and examines the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in driving innovation. The NRI is thus a key tool in assessing a country's preparedness to reap the benefits of emerging technologies and capitalise on the opportunities presented by the digital transformation.
Released by the WEF on Wednesday, the report assesses the factors, policies, and institutions that enable a country to fully leverage ICT for increased prosperity and crystallizes them into a global ranking of networked readiness at the country level in the form of the NRI.
On this global index, India has slipped down two positions from the year before to an overall rank of 91, despite improvements in its political and regulatory environment and in its business and innovation environment.
Although India's absolute score has changed only marginally in recent years, the drop can be attributed in part to the fact that other countries are moving ahead at higher speeds. In addition, lack of infrastructure and low levels of skills among the population remain the key bottlenecks to widespread ICT adoption, especially in terms of individual usage.
The report identifies areas where India is struggling in terms of being digitally networked ready. A third of the Indian population is still illiterate and a similar share of youth is not enrolled in secondary education. Only 15 out of 100 households have access to the internet and mobile broadband remains a privilege of the few, with only 5.5 subscriptions for every 100 people.
This is in spite of the fact that affordability has long been one of the strengths of the Indian ICT ecosystem, with the country ranking 8th this year in this area. A deep divide persists between well-connected metropolitan hubs and remote rural areas, where even the most basic infrastructure is lacking.
In 2015, the government launched the Digital India programme, which aims to close this gap by fostering investment in digital infrastructure, improving digital literacy, and increasingly providing online services to citizens. India's performance in terms of providing online services and allowing e-participation has so far been in line with that of peer countries, but far from the global best (57th and 40th, respectively).
Singapore tops, Finland second
The 2016 edition of the NRI finds Singapore as the highest-placed country in the world when it comes to networked readiness. Finland, which topped the ranking in 2014, remains in second place for a second year in a row, followed by Sweden (3rd), Norway (4th) and the United States (5th), which climbed two places.
Making up the rest of the top 10 are the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Japan. Networked readiness, therefore, remains highly correlated with per capita income.
Europe remains at the technology frontier with seven out of the top 10 NRI countries being European. Several Eastern European countries - notably the Slovak Republic, Poland, and the Czech Republic - are making big strides, landing spots in the top 50 of the NRI; better affordability and large improvements in economic and social impacts are contributing to this success in these three countries in a major way.
Italy is another notable mover this year, improving 10 places to reach 45th position as economic and social impacts of ICTs are starting to be realized (up 18 places in the global impact rankings).
Of the large emerging markets, Russia remains unchanged at 41st position. China comes next, moving up three places to 59th. South Africa improves markedly, climbing 10 places to 65th, while Brazil partially recovers from a previous downward trend to 72nd this year.
Leading the developing Asian economies in 2016 is Malaysia, which continues to perform strongly and moves up one spot to 31st position overall; this performance is supported by a government that is fully committed to the digital agenda. The top five in the region in terms of overall ICT readiness remain China, Malaysia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, unchanged from 2015.