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,
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.