After disrupting Indian telecom, Reliance Jio teams up with Facebook for digital literacy

Digitally independent.
Digitally independent.
Image: REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade
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Reliance Jio Infocomm, in partnership with Facebook, has launched a digital literacy programme for first-time internet users in India.

The literacy drive will be mostly limited to acquainting users with the Mukesh Ambani-owned telco’s JioPhone. “Jio will engage its users every Saturday to help them learn about JioPhone features, use of various apps and internet safety through audio-visual training in 10 regional languages,” read a press release by the company yesterday (July 3).

As part of the initiative, named Digital Udaan, Facebook will oversee content and its relevance to the target audience. The US-based social media giant will also train individuals handling the initiative on behalf of Reliance Jio, it said.

Since its launch in 2016, Reliance Jio has disrupted the Indian telecom landscape. While the company’s free voice calls had triggered an intense price war in the sector, its affordable data packs notched up internet users in the country. Jio claims it now has a user base of over 300 million.

The company has not mentioned the total outlay for Digital Udaan, which has been launched in 200 cities and villages, and is expected to reach around 7,000 other locations soon.

“The initiative will help eradicate barriers of information asymmetry and provide accessibility in real time. It is a programme for inclusive information, education, and entertainment, where no Indian will be left out of this digital drive,” Akash Ambani, director of Reliance Jio, said in the release.

India’s great digital divide

The need for initiatives like Digital Udaan once again puts the spotlight on India’s great digital divide.

Even with the tag of one of the world’s fastest growing economies, a 2018 report by the Digital Empowerment Foundation indicates that in the country, 30% of the population lags on basic literacy and thrice that on digital literacy.

Digital India, a scheme launched in 2015, was part of the government’s plan to bridge this gap.

While such schemes are expanding their footprints but challenges remain due to lack of infrastructure, crippling capacity constraints, and insufficient funds.

In a note last month, India’s ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) said it needed more funds for the digital literacy programme to train around 60 million people in rural areas under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA), reported the BusinessLine newspaper.

Launched in February 2017 with an outlay of Rs2,351.38 crore ($3.41 million), PMGDISHA aimed at making at least one individual in every rural household digitally literate.