Fundamental to Channeling Pakistan’s Social Capital

Pakistan is still far away from a universal provision for digital technology. There have been calls for universalizing access across the country. The U.N. considers the right to information a universal entitlement, specifically Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognizes the digital right to “seek, receive, and impart information through any media, regardless of frontiers.” Access is the first port of call for the adoption of technologies that allow information to flow freely.

This section reviews what digital access is, where it exists, and how Pakistanis are utilizing it. These conclusions are derived from the NHDR 2023/2024’s household survey and qualitative interactions held across the country during the period of May-September 2023, involving about 6,000 respondents.
Beyond Physical Access
Access is often the primary lens to evaluate the presence of a resource, and determines whether a critical mass of usage exists for benefits to accrue. In digital terms, this can mean vastly different things for individuals with dissimilar starting points. The young owner of a smart phone in a city with faltering internet will express dissatisfaction about connectivity. Whereas, an elderly person in a tech-enabled household may find it confusing to use a new delivery app. Both individuals have specific limitations in access that illustrate the digital divide.
In this Report we define access to include physical ownership or usage of hardware and software, as well as digital fluency that makes it possible to utilize technology.

Access is frequently taken to mean physical access, or acquiring the hardware and software needed to connect with and utilize the internet. This depends on individuals’ and households’ motivation, attitude, and expectation[i] of using digital technology, as much as the availability of digital infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables and cell phone towers in their vicinity. To be sure, physical access is limited in Pakistan, with 47 per cent of the country simply unable to use the internet in any way. Even in cities with dense digital usage, the uninterrupted supply of quality Internet is routinely cited as a concern by users. However, physical access is not a one-off occurrence of supply meeting demand. Rather, it is a continuous process whereby users upgrade their hardware and software versions, peripheral equipment, and subscriptions[ii].

At the same time, those with physical access can experience a “second-level digital divide” when they do not possess the skills to utilize the technology available[iii]. This is true for millions of users in Pakistan, as well as across the world, who find it challenging to operate the devices they use. Even if physical access were universalized, differentials in skills and competency will arbitrate where people stand in relation to technology and each other. Thus, the appropriation of digital technology is a question of capacities as they exist today, and how best they can be built for the future.

The exploration of the nexus between digitalization and enhanced human development outcomes is grounded in the logical foundation that digital devices and the internet, when harnessed effectively, possess transformative potential across diverse sectors. Online health and educational services serve as conduits for vital information and resources, particularly in communities facing accessibility challenges. Simultaneously, the acquisition of digital skills and the utilization of online platforms for work and business create avenues for income generation.
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