Sidharth Malik, managing director and vice president, India at Akamai Technologies, says Internet revolution in India is in full swing, and the country wants to build a massive digital infrastructure to support over 800 million rural citizens by 2019.
India is the third biggest country in terms of Internet users in the world, with a high number of social and mobile audiences.
The focus of the government to build a Digital India through broadband highways connecting every household, village, panchayat, university, and government department, will go a long way in providing solutions to the never ending problems of rural India, and to create smarter villages. As part of the digital agenda, the government wants to make every household and every individual digitally empowered. A nationwide broadband network can be a veritable game changer for a developing country like India. Such connectivity can help in delivering a wide range of services such as communications, governance, health, education – and even entertainment across India. It can empower people – irrespective of their social status, region, income or gender, to actively participate in the development process.
By the year 2019, the Digital India program of the Government envisages that 250,000 Indian villages will enjoy broadband and universal phone connectivity. This is a truly visionary and commendable initiative. If executed, every citizen will be able to easily access government services, which will be seamlessly integrated across departments and jurisdictions, and will be available in real time on mobile phones and online, in local languages. While the government is trying to connect remote areas/ villages via high-speed Internet services to digitally empower people, it has to deal with multiple challenges like –
The number of people with access to Internet and broadband continues to rise, but India still ranks behind as compared to other markets.
One barrier to online access for India’s millions of poor citizens is the cost – a residential broadband service is six to ten times more expensive than in China.
Being able to afford an Internet-connected device can be tough in a country where 75 percent of the population earns less than Rs 5,000 per month.
Slow broadband penetration
India simply lacks the infrastructure needed to expand access. The government is working with the private sector to speed up the national broadband project to connect the far-flung areas of the country. The Department of Telecommunications has approached the government for a near 40 percent escalation in the National Optical Fiber Network project cost from Rs 20,100 crore to nearly Rs 28,000 crore, triggered by an upward revision in the last mile optic fibre cable connectivity requirement. The objective is to provide affordable and reliable broadband services and the vision is to achieve 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by the year 2020 with a minimum of 2Mbps download speeds, making higher speeds of at least 100Mbps available on demand. The project, once completed, will enable the center to provide e-services and e-applications nationally.
Awareness of the benefits of broadband and the capability to use broadband are essential steps in building demand for such services. This is sometimes referred to as digital literacy. In India, one of the major constraints in awareness and adoption of web technologies is the lack of primary education and low digital illiteracy. The lack of awareness about various citizen services, eSevas and other solutions that are available can impede the socio-economic development of the nation. Government and corporates need to develop partnerships to bring in more awareness and thereby increase demand and supply for digital services.
Content has to be tailored to fit local and cultural context to derive maximum value. Additionally, local hosting can bring speed and cost benefits for both, end users and content providers. Customised and localised content will help consumers understand the importance of various services (citizen services, sports, entertainment etc.) that are available and addresses key needs and challenges of the community. The next wave of Internet adoption in India will be dominated by local language speakers, which underscores the need for much more content and application to be offered in local languages.
A well-orchestrated collaboration between the government, policy makers, mobile network operators, and telecom infrastructure companies is crucial to the success of the Digital India initiative. However, rather than imposing taxes, levies, charges, and license fees on the telecom sector, the government must provide ‘gap funding’ and other incentives for expanding into rural locations. It is also important for the government to form a public-private partnership (PPP) to initiate and manage wireless broadband pilot projects in districts with government provided fiber backhaul (NOFN) aimed at creating smart villages. In a bid to connect 2,50,000 village panchayats extensively, more focus on wireless connections leveraging private and global players is essential. For example, Google’s “Project Loon” is designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.
In parallel, a comprehensive strategy is required to address the security demands of the government and focus on providing secure content. According to the Akamai Q1 2016 State Of The Internet – Security report, India was among the top 10 source countries for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks accounting for 6.67 percent of the traffic. 5 percent of the web application attacks in Q1 2016 also targeted India. The government and corporate organizations along with Internet service providers need to be prepared to defend against such attacks. Building network efficiency is a major challenge in India and it must be tackled effectively.
The government needs to now focus on a collaborative approach backed by a well-articulated strategy, setting the right policy frameworks and processes that make it easy for industries to conduct business in India, and encourage companies to participate in India’s journey towards becoming a digitally connected nation. The Digital India initiative will be a game changer for the digital technology revolution in the country. This massive change will help to bring systems and infrastructure up to speed and leverage the country’s young workforce to establish a firm foundation towards digitally-sustainable practices to eventually attain its objectives.
Sidharth Malik, managing director and vice president, India at Akamai Technologies