Over 500 million South Asian internet users constitute a significant proportion of the 3.4 billion in the entire world. Some of the most popular issues of debate regarding internet policy in South Asia are connectivity, access and data protection. According to ISOC’s 2014 survey report on Asia-Pacific Regional Policy, only 12% of the South Asian population had access to the internet. While this percentage has increased in the last two years, connectivity and speed are other issues faced by internet users in South Asia. The average connection speed is well below the surrounding regions. The internet and information and communication technologies in general are usually seen as tools for economic and cultural development by governments in South Asia, as well as many researchers studying policy in the area. Detailed studies on the digital divide in the general region are outdated.
While users are concerned with censorship and data protection, they are also interested in what type of content is allowed by their governments to be freely available. A significant amount of research is devoted to how changing and developing technology could affect the youth and the culture. A lot of attention is paid on mass media to obscenity on the internet and moral issues. There does not seem to be a vast amount of research on these subjects and relevant debates on free speech. There is relatively more content in the literature on countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, probably because of their populations and economic significance, while countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka seem to be overlooked. It is very difficult to find any relevant piece of research on the Maldives.
Rao, M. et al. 1999. “Struggling with the Digital Divide: Internet Infrastructure, Policies and Regulations.” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol 34(46/47). 20-26.
This article provides an overview of one of the most significant issues of internet policy in South Asia: digital divide. The authors report that the regulators only recently ** welcomed private sector ISPs, and fair competition between these and government-owned ISP should be ensured to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural, non-English and English-speaking South Asia.
**: at the end of 90s.
Zhou, Y., Singh, N., & Kaushik, P.D. 2011. “The Digital Divide in Rural South Asia: Survey Evidence from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.” IIMB Management Review. Vol 23(1). 15-29.
This article investigates the possibility of closing the gaps in access to information and communication technologies via innovation and low cost options. According to the authors who examined the factors influential in patterns of usage, lower levels of education and income play an important role in lack of access to ICTs.
India has 34.8% internet penetration; however, the proportion of broadband internet connection is still too low. While the total number of internet users is one of the highest in the world due to India’s population and the ratio is not the worst in the region, the average speed of 2.7 mbps falls behind those of most Asian and Western countries. Other significant issues of debate regarding India’s internet are silencing of dissent and creation of chilling effects on new media, mass digital surveillance, and privacy on the internet.
Rangaswamy, N., & Cutrell, E. 2013. “Anthropology, Development, and ICTs: Slums, Youth, and the Mobile Internet in Urban India.” Information Technologies & International Development. Vol 9(2). 51-63.
This article presents the results of a study on mobile internet adoption and development in urban India. It outlines the adoption and usage processes taken on by young population from low-income families in urban areas, and discusses how statistics about everyday usage of mobile internet, including non-instrumental, recreational usage, may be used in development research.
Gumasta, A., Gokhale, P., & Das, T. 2012. “Using Global Content Balancing to Solve the Broadband Penetration Problem in the Developing World: Case Study, India.” IEEE Communications Magazine. Vol 50(5). 74-81.
This article outlines the differences in the emergence of cellular and broadband networks in India. It suggests a business-oriented model to overcome the shortcomings of the broadband infrastructures in India in terms of connectivity, stability and popularity. This model provides information about the relationship between the available content and proliferation of broadband.
Addison, L. 2015. “The State of Surveillance in India: The Central Monitoring System’s Chilling Effect on Self-Expression.” Washington University Global Studies Law Review. Vol 14. 799-822.
This article compares India’s planned ‘Central Monitoring System’ which would monitor 900 million mobile and landline telecommunication systems and 160 million internet users in real time to NSA’s ‘Prism’ brought into open in detail by Edward Snowden. The author discusses the system’s potential implications on privacy and free expression, as well as a possible paradigm shift in how India regulates free speech and private information of its citizens.
Liang, L. 2015. “Censorship and the Politics of Micro-Fascism.” Television & New Media. Vol 16(4). 388-393.
This article explores the impact of social media’s exponential growth in India on new ways of censorship, challenging free expression, and oppression of dissent. The author investigates how existing legislation on hate speech is systematically used to create chilling effects by right-wing organizations, politicians, and overzealous citizens.
With 17.8% internet penetration, Pakistan’s internet connection is very slow (2 mbps), just like other countries in the region. The research on the internet in Pakistan is mostly concerned with the implications of new technologies on receiving information and reaching educational resources, especially on a higher education level. Additionally, the effects of the internet on the youth and their connection to the culture is another popular subject. Mass surveillance and censorship are taken into account mainly as tools of power-grabbing based especially on political and religious grounds.
Zia, A., Paracha S.A., & Jan, M. 2012. “Usage of Social Networking Website (YouTube) by Teenagers in Lahore, Pakistan.” Global Media Journal: Pakistan Edition. Vol 5(2). 26-40.
This article investigates why teenagers use social media in general and YouTube in particular, and how they are affected by their usage. The authors find that social media is considered an easy way to reach instrumental and non-instrumental information, and connect to the rest of the world.
Hashim, R. et al. 2016. “Internet Use: Disruptive or Enhancing Towards Learning? Views & Perceptions of Undergraduate Medical Students.” Pakistan Armed Forces Medical Journal. Issue 66. 157-161.
This study examines how internet literacy affects university students’ learning and grades, as well as their relationships with their friends and family.
Privacy International. 2015. “Tipping the Scales: Security & Surveillance in Pakistan.”
This report examines the usage of communications surveillance tools by the Pakistani government and provides insights into the impacts of surveillance on phone and internet traffic. Pakistan’s tools of regulation and surveillance have an almost complete control over the internet traffic entering or leaving the country; the report states that intelligence agencies have abused their powers to spy on opposition politicians and judges, while “widespread internet monitoring and censorship has also been used to target journalists, lawyers and activists.”
Internet users constitute only 13.2% of Bangladesh’s population, with connection speeds very similar to those in neighboring countries. The main focuses of research on Bangladesh’s internet are the digital divide between urban and rural populations, the role of ICT policies in governance, and violent extremism threatening dissenting voices. Besides facing serious legal challenges based on Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006, particularly for “hurting religious sentiments”, bloggers became an endangered group of people in Bangladesh.
Islam, A., & Tsuji, K. 2011. “Bridging Digital Divide in Bangladesh: Study on Community Information Centers.” The Electronic Library, Vol 29(4). 506-522.
This article discusses the endeavors in Bangladesh to improve internet penetration. The authors point out that the limitations of information technology development are financial limitations, and access to technological and scientific information improves the quality of life and support development. They focus specifically on Community Information Centers’ roles in bridging the digital divide, especially between rural and urban areas.
Hasan, S. 2014. “ICT Policies and Their Role in Governance: The Case of Bangladesh.” Science, Technology & Society. Vol 19(3). 363-381.
Bangladesh has an e-governance system which implements information and communication technologies in government function. This article assesses the success of the e-governance initiatives in a country like Bangladesh where internet penetration is very low and there is a digital divide between urban and rural areas, as well as based on income levels. The article discusses the challenges of this implementation based on the gap between what is planned and what can be achieved, in terms of legal, institutional and infrastructural components of governance.
Tripathi, S. 2014. “Blogging, Blasphemy and Bans.” Index on Censorship [43(1)].
This article is one of the many articles and reports on the internet about the challenges and threats bloggers face in Bangladesh. The author reports that atheist and/or secularist bloggers not only face violence and threats based on claims of blasphemy, but they also encounter harsh legal action. Similarly according to CNN, online activists in favor of freedoms, LGBTT rights and secularism, as well as political dissenters in general, are constantly confronted by Islamist extremists and government officials who are indifferent, or at times hostile.
29.3% of Sri Lankans are internet users who have the highest average connection speed in the region. The research on Sri Lanka’s internet policy is very limited. In similarity to other countries in the region, both the Sri Lankan government and the research on Sri Lanka’s internet seem to focus on internet’s functions as a tool for development. Research also shows that media policy in general has been rather harsh against dissenting journalists and activists, and the internet provides an alternate virtual public sphere to reach outside the country in communications. As the government took office in 2015, it is hard to reach an adequate number of recent studies in these particular topics.
Carte, T.A., Dharmasiri, A., & Perera, T. 2011. “Building IT Capabilities: Learning by Doing.” Information Technology for Development. Vol 17(4). 289-305.
This article explores a government initiative to utilize information and communication technologies in the workplace. Considering the internet as a tool for development, the authors outline the shortcomings of Sri Lanka in business, in terms of problems in infrastructure, and lack of IT skills. According to the authors, this initiative helped employees gain IT skills, and led to an increase in the awareness of internet availability, especially for female participants.
Considering that only 6.8% of the population has access to the internet in Afghanistan, the post-war environment and conflicts still in place present some financial and structural challenges.
Hamdard, J. 2012. “The State of Telecommunications and Internet in Afghanistan: Six Years Later (2006-2012).” Assessment Report.
This report emphasizes the emergence of a new mobile communications infrastructure and creation of thousands of new jobs; however, the lack of resources for a wireless broadband network is apparent. According to the report, although steps had been taken to issue the country’s first 3G and wireless broadband licenses in 2011, none of the applicants were able to fulfill the technical requirements.*** The overall internet access in the country is the weakest in the region, and one of the weakest in the world.
***: The 3G network started operating in 2012.
As a small country located between India and China, also accounting for its geographical limitations, Bhutan has managed to preserve a unique culture. While the small population is unfamiliar or uncomfortable with most modern elements such as tobacco products and traffic lights, the internet was introduced to the country in the same year as television: 1999. Bhutan has an oral communication and story-telling tradition, which is considered to be a factor that makes its people’s experience with the internet unique, and the ratio of internet users relatively high at 36.9%.
Avieson, B. 2015. “From Mani Stones to Twitter: Bhutan Creates a Unique Media Matrix for a 21st-Century Democracy.” International Journal of Communication. Vol 9. 2487-2506.
This article discusses the development of a new and unique media model in Bhutan, where even television was introduced in 1999. The author suggests that in Bhutan, with no developed print culture, introduction of new media technologies may provide interesting outcomes in harmony with the oral tradition. According to the author, Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) aims to preserve the culture and tradition by promoting development in the landlocked country of approximately 700,000 people.
As another landlocked country, Nepal has 17.2% internet penetration. The country has a serious illiteracy and poverty problem, and it has an unstable political environment.
Dhungana, H. et al. 2011. “Problems and Prospects of Internet in New e-Nepal.” Second Asian Himalayas International Conference on Internet. 1-8.
This report provides a general overview of the developments in Nepal in the field of information and communication technologies. At the time of the report, only 48% over the age of 6 were literate in Nepal. The issues about Nepal’s internet are mostly caused by lack of education, infrastructure and financial resources. The total getaway bandwidth connected to Nepal was 6 Gbps in 2011.
As a touristic location spot with a small population, the Maldives has 53.6% internet penetration and is not suffering any major connectivity problems. However, the status of press freedoms is problematic in general. Censorship and oppression of dissenters is an issue of debate.