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Socio-economic Impact of Mobile Phone Usage in Rural India

A Case Study of Bihar and Punjab

Project Sponsors: DFID and University of Manchester
Project Director: Professor Dev Nathan
Principal Researcher: Mr. Balwant Singh Mehta

Objective and Methodology: This study was a part of the ‘Capturing the Gains’ project funded by DFID and the University of Manchester. The main objective of the study was to explore the socio-economic impact of mobile phone usage in rural areas. The study was conducted in two states of India, namely Punjab, a relatively developed state, and Bihar, a relatively under-developed state. A total of 418 mobile users were interviewed in 12 villages in seven districts of Bihar and 24 case studies in six villages in a district in Punjab, as part of the research sample.

Findings: The field survey revealed that the mobile phone is helping users gather information for both agricultural and non-agricultural purposes, apart from promoting social networking with their families, relatives and other migrant family members. The mobile phone users benefited by obtaining timely information regarding availability of employment, information pertaining to higher education for their children, transfer of money, and for calling their near and dear ones in times of emergency. The study found a marked difference in the usage of mobile phones between people in the developed state and those in the under-developed state. In the developed areas, people were found to be early users of new technology, which was reflected in the high usage of mobile value added services (MVAS) in Punjab. On other hand, people in the under-developed areas were seen to use innovative methods to adopt the new technology, which was reflected in the findings in Bihar. Users also reported facing a number of challenges while using mobile phones such as the lack of electricity for charging, lack of knowledge of MVAS, poor quality of signals, base stations or mobile towers being rendered non-functional in the absence of electricity, and finally incidences of fraudulent money deduction by operators.

Recommendations: The various recommendations proposed by the study include encouraging the use of solar power for charging mobile phones, proper planning of the unused fund of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), and its deployment for enhancing technology and infrastructure, and increasing awareness about the benefits of technology among users in rural India with the help of telecom operators, learning content providers, universities and schools, and local administrations.