The Gist of Kurukshetra: April - 2016


The Gist of Kurukshetra: April 2016


Digitally Connecting Rural India

The government’s ambitious “Digital India” plan aims to digital connect all of India’s villages and gram panchayats by broadband internet, promote e-governance and transform India into a connected knowledge economy. By the year 2019, the ‘Digital India’ program envisages that 250,000 Indian villages will enjoy broadband connectivity, and universal phone connectivity. This is a truly visionary and commendable imitative. However, to implement this vision in a country where most of the population resides in rural area is very challenging. It can best be done by creating Digital “Town Squares” – which will be tower-based sites that enable the smart village and would become the focal point for providing information, social, e-learning and e-governance services to villages. This can become the spring board for rapid economic growth in the rural areas.

Digital India Programme aims to transform India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy. This is a follow up to the key decisions economy. This is a follow up to the key decisions taken on the design of the programme during the meeting on Digital India Programme in August 2014, and to sensitize all ministries to this vast programme touching every corner of the government. This programme has been envisaged by Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY).

The programme will be implemented in phases from the current year till 2018. The Digital India is transformational in nature and would ensure that Government services are available to citizens electronically. It would also bring in public accountability through mandated delivery of government’s services electronically; a Unique ID based interoperable and integrated government applications and data basis.

Digital India is an initiative by the Centre to ensure that Government services are made available to citizens electronically by improving online infrastructure and by increasing Internet connectivity. It was launched on July 1, 2015 by Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi. The initiative includes plans to connect rural areas with high-speed internet networks. Digital India has three core components. These include:

  • The creation of digital infrastructure
  • Delivering services digitally
  • Digital literacy

India has a population of more than 1.2 billion out of which 52 per cent of the population is below 25 years of age. Having 900 million mobile connections (130 million smart phones and over 200 million internet users). India online population is growing steadily.

According to sources, internet services are mostly used in Urban areas as compared to rural areas but the trend is likely to be changed in coming times.

This is all because of Central and State Government initiatives. Government policies have made the difference today over 1100 schemes can be accessed PAN India. The major emphasis is being given to provide better services to the people alongside improving internal efficiency.

As a nation, India has laid emphasis on National e-governance plan and has given its approval for Digital India – A programme to transform India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy.

This is step taken further by the Government to bring all the Ministries, State Governments under one Umbrella through which it can promote various, manufacturing etc.

Through this new initiative this will create more job opportunities and people’s aspirations can also be met. This create convenience to all citizens i.e. information will be easily available, no standing in queues, hassle-free transaction etc.

In future prospects this will help in bridging the gap between rich and poor and all can be at a same platform to avail services. One of the best examples in today’s scenario is IRCTC i.e. booking and cancellation of rail tickets online. In recent times it has seen a major shift in people’s perception for booking/cancellation of railway tickets.

Project

Broadband in 2.5 lakh villages, universal phone connectivity, Net Zero Imports by 2020, 400,000 public Internet Access Points, Wi-Fi in 2.5 lakh schools, all universities; Public Wi-Fi hotspots for citizens, Digital Inclusion: 1.7 Cr trained for IT, Telecom and Electronics job Creation: Direct 1.7 Cr. And Indirect at least 8.5 Cr. E-Governance& eServices: The Government of India entity Bharat Broadband Network Limited which executes the National Optical Fibre Network Project will be the custodian of Digital India (DI) project. BBNL had ordered United Telecoms Limited to connect 250, 000 villages through GPON to ensure FTTH based broadband. This will provide the first basic setup to achieve towards Digital India and is expected to be completed by 2017. Optical fibre cable have been laid out in more than 68000 village panchayats.

Broadband Highways

  • This covers three sub components, namely Broadband for All Rural, Broadband for All Urban and National Information Infrastructure.
  • Under Broadband for All Rural, 250 thousand village Panchayats would be covered by December, 2016. Do will be the Nodal Department and the project cost is estimated to be approximately Rs. 32, 000 Cr.
  • Under Broadband for All Urban, Virtual Network Operators would leveraged for service delivery and communication infrastructure in new urban development and buildings would be mandated.

Broadband Penetration for Digital Villages

For this concept to be successfully implemented, certain conditions need to be met:

  • First the telecom infrastructure for broadband facilities have to be available to a critical mass of consumers – a few islands of connectivity will not add significant economic value.
  • A wide range of applications and content relevant for rural consumers must be accessible on mobile devices and the operators must provide service packages affordable to the target user. Broad based availability of broadband services, through handheld devices, is a per-requisite for the achievement of the goals of ‘Digital India’.

Unfortunately, telecom infrastructure providers find rural towers quite uneconomic. In most countries, towers are built in rural areas with government subsidy and support.

In this context, rural telecom towers are, and will remain, a key component in taking broadband down to the village level.

Digital “Town Squares”

Globally, cities have an open public space like a “town square” which become a focal point for recreational and social activity. In a similar fashion, the site of the telecom tower can become a focal point – like a Digital “Town Square” for providing services to the village. Towers provide in-site physical infrastructure each with its own ecosystem of energy, security etc., which can be utilized to deliver several critical services and facilities. These towers can extend significant benefits to the village’s economy, as demonstrated in several countries in Africa.

E – Government and other value added services can be offered at these sites. These include utility payments (power, water and telecom bills) and e-learning stations. ATC, in its own endeavor to reach out to village to provide e-learning, has installed Learning Stations (Kiosks) that have pre-loaded educational material that aim at enhancing functional computer literacy among school children aged 6 to 14 years.

ATC mobile towers are the nucleus for providing e-Learning in rural areas. This programme uses the 24/7 energy backup at the tower and the 3G/4G/ WiMax broadband link to provide e-learning at a computer kiosk attached to the tower or at a nearby village school. A typical installation has:

  • Two self-learning computer stations or “Kiosks” at ATC Tower sites.
  • 24×7 uninterrupted power supply from the tower site.
  • Guard room at the tower site to install the Learning Stations.
  • 3G or Wimax wire/wireless internet data connectivity.
  • Tower sites that are in close promimity to community schools/schools in rural and semi-urban areas so that children from these schools can use the learning stations. The ATC experiment has led to significant success in the area of e-learning. The same success in the replicated in other area like e-governance, e-health, e-commerce as well.

Public Private Partnerships

Currently, India has a total of 450, 000 telecom towers, only 60 per cent of which are located in rural areas. These tracts have a poor tele-density of 46 per cent (according to TRAI). We need another 60, 000 telecom towers in order to achieve the goals of the ‘Digital India’ programme. Rural telecom remains expensive. For 60,000 additional towers to be installed in rural India, Government has to provide incentives to businesses to make it attractive for them to invest Rs. 20,000 crores, not even counting the backhaul cost.

Conclusion

The telecom infrastructure companies can play a major role in the eventual success of ‘Digital India’. A well-orchestrated collaboration between the Government, policy makers, mobile network operators, and telecom infrastructure companies is crucial to the success of this venture. However, rather than imposing taxes, levies charges, and licence fees on the telecom sector, the government must provide ‘gap funding’ and other incentives to the Industry for expanding into rural locations; they also need to form a public – private partnership (PPP) to initiate and manage wireless broadband pilot projects in districs with government provided fibre backhaul (NOFN) aimed at creating smart villages.

Industry recognizes that the next level of invention and innovations could come out of India. While the services sector will continue to provide more opportunities, India’s next surge would come from the manufacturing sector that would create more jobs and incomes in both urban and rural areas. In short, the future belongs to those corporations that would have a strategy of Make in India and Make for India. If Indian companies could focus on technologies and products that could help build Digital India, their manufacturing strategies could have greater relevance to a changing nation.

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