Access to the internet is being increasingly seen as an essential driver for empowerment and a platform on which to engage low-income communities. It also provides an opportunity for transparent governance and a powerful tool for citizens to access knowledge, essential services; e-governance and co-ordination during disasters. This is especially needed by low-income communities. Yet broadband infrastructure planning hasn’t been visualized in Mumbai as compared to other global cities, despite the positive implications for development. While telecom and usage of mobiles has penetrated deep within Indian cities, the demand for broadband has not surfaced on a large scale from the citizens.
Within this context and the opportunity for change presented by Mumbai’s ongoing Development Plan, UDRI initiated a project on Digital Inclusion supported by the Ford Foundation in 2013. Inputs from stakeholder meetings helped streamline a set of planning principles that were submitted to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai for embedding Digital Inclusion in the Development Plan 2034.
UDRI’s particular focus is on a large population of potential users from marginalized settlements that have traditionally remained excluded by service providers causing a digital divide. Understanding land-use requirements for physical installation of these networks is a key step in providing opportunities for the urban poor.
Several significant planning impacts have emerged out of this project, including the absorption of a public discourse on Wi-Fi within the manifesto of parties in the local and assembly elections, the inclusion of the concept in the draft Housing Policy of the Government of Maharashtra and more recently, in the Revised Development Plan of Mumbai 2034.
As an essential and related part of this project, UDRI has also developed an open data platform for Mumbai. While advocating for access to the internet, UDRI is also advocating for bringing public information online as a key tool for empowerment and dialogue with the city.