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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Is Odisha on the cusp of digital revolution?  The launch pad looks perfectly set up as Odisha in 2018 not only figured among the top -10 smartphone users in the country but also was among the top-10 racers on the data highway. But the sizeable poverty populace in the State is still proving a big speedbreaker.

When a latest report by well known research outfit Cyber Media Research revealed the smartphone penetration in Odisha at around 45 per cent, latest TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) report revealed that data usage per subscriber per month in Odisha stood at a staggering 7.5 GB vis-a-vis the national average of 7.4 GB in 2018.

In smartphone penetration, Odisha has not only remained ahead of BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) states but has also beaten advanced states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana.

Similarly, in the all important indicator of per subscriber per month usage, Odisha struts marginally ahead of the advanced states like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. It's only a slice below Maharashtra (7.8GB).

However, Bihar and Assam gallop faster than Odisha on data highway with a rate of 8 GB and 7.9 GB, respectively, when both the states have smartphone penetration lower than Odisha.

As per the TRAI data, the wireless data subscriber base by the end of 2018 in Odisha stood at 14.20 million vis-a-vis of 10.67 million in Assam. Though Bihar's subscriber base is shown at 35.60 mn, the fact is the LSA (Licensed Service Area) Bihar included Jharkhand.

It has been observed that the data subscriber base of Odisha saw a net addition of 4 million vis-a-vis of 12 mn addition in Andhra Pradesh and 10 mn in Rajasthan.

Why the addition in Odisha is slower comparatively? An analysis shows that poorer states recorded a fewer addition to their data subscriber base in comparison to their better off counterparts. Assam, another poverty rich state, could see addition of mere 2 mn new subscribers.

 The big reason: As per the expert group headed by former RBI governor C Rangarajan, The new poverty line for rural areas is nearly Rs 32 and for urban areas is Rs 47.  Accordingly, the monthly income for 28 days for such citizens for urban areas is Rs 1,316 and for rural areas Rs 896.

However, to access data, the minimum tariff plan available to customers is around Rs 49, which includes free voice, SMS and 1 GB data every 28 days. This implies to around 4-5 per cent of the monthly income - more than a day's income- of such consumers, which is a considerable cost for the BPL people.

And as per latest UNDP-Oxford's Multidimensional Povert Index (MPI), nearly 36 per cent people live below poverty line in the State. And Odisha, along with Assam, ranked as the poorest regions in the country.

Following a low subscriber base, the State languishes in the bottom -10, among 21 states, in annual data usage. The annual data usage in Odisha has been put at 1,134.2 million GB in 2018, which is a 139 per cent jump from 2017 vis-a-vis an average spike of 131 per cent nationally.


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