With people losing livelihoods during the pandemic days, internet connectivity has become increasingly crucial in facilitating access to opportunities for the marginalized segment of society. Amid lockdown, Zehra, the woman I’d employed as a nanny for my younger kids requested me to loan her money to buy a smartphone so she could start a business of selling homemade snacks. Her husband lost his job during the pandemic and the family income dropped significantly, making it difficult for them to make ends meet. However, with the assistance of smartphone technology and newly-acquired internet access, social media apps became key enablers of her business as she advertised her homemade items through an Instagram profile and a Facebook page that my daughter helped her create. For Zehra, her new phone also provided a much-deserved break from her stressful life. With the help of my daughter, she downloads and listens to music on her handset, whenever she can. The smartphone not only benefits her work but also enriches her personal life.

This is a testament to why the digital divide needs to be bridged in Pakistan. Connecting the unconnected can open up new possibilities of income for the financially-disadvantaged groups and for that to happen, smartphones need to become a lot more affordable than they are. The government should take steps to make an average handset, costing between Rs. 10,000-Rs. 15,000, more affordable for the masses. Following the example of other countries, pre-paid instalment plans for handsets offered by telecom operators would also help towards that end. Ultimately, cheaper smartphones would result in greater economic growth.