Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been talking about his vision to build a new country through Digital India initiative.
However, PM Modi will miss Digital India targets if there’re no significant changes in the present mindset of telecom ministry and the decision makers. This is because the foundation of Digital India will be 100 percent broadband and telecom access to Indians.
India has missed its broadband targets in several occasions earlier and will continue to miss the new targets because of less participation from private players and lack of efficiency of government companies. Indian telecom ministry does not even know how to encourage private players to invest in rural and urban broadband.
There are several examples.
The BWA (broadband wireless access) targets – 4G or LTE now – given to Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio Infocomm – to achieve roll outs in five years is an example. Poor 3G connectivity — even in metro circles in Mumbai and Delhi — is yet another example.
This correspondent who lives in Patparganj, just 9 km from Connaught Place, New Delhi, does not even get enough 3G connectivity. My home town in Wadakanchery panchayat, Trichur, Kerala, where you can see 2 cinema theatres, 5 hospitals, several auditoriums, bar-cum-restaurants, football ground, two well known schools, etc. does not give you seamless broadband. In nearby places, broadband is still a dream. I cannot even offer jobs in my digital media start-up to my friends there due to lack of broadband connectivity.
As per BWA guideline set by the Congress led UPA Government and several DoT and TRAI officials, Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Jio Infocomm can launch 4G services in the fifth year of bagging the wireless broadband license. This means, even after receiving spectrum, the company can wait for years to understand and learn the eco-system.
On the other hand, the government did not offer spectrum to Sunil Mittal-promoted Bharti Airtel for its spectrum refarming programs in Delhi and Kolkatta. Airtel wants compensation from the telecom ministry. It indicates lack of focus of the new government.
Modi’s Digital India
The government feels that Digital India can be achieved through a combination of projects in India — telecom and broadband connectivity, mobile banking, e-governance, active participation of Indians, etc.
The main problem is connected to the decision makers who are going to implement this. The success will depend on the execution ability of government employees and the acceptance of both rural and urban Indians. This has to be delivered through a number of government employees.
The main objective of Digital India is to connect people in order to improve GDP that reached 5.7 percent in the recent quarter. It’s a big task to improve broadband connectivity from the 15 million levels.
India’s Bharat Broadband project has already collapsed due to inefficiency of decision makers. The new telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wants to achieve new targets.
The government wants to connect India through a National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) in all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats in the country in a phased manner. There are new targets and new Capex plans. But there is no change in the name of developers. It will be developed by state run BSNL, RailTel and Power Grid, who could not even select the main telecom vendors for the first phase of the project.
Earlier, TRAI chief Rahul Khullar recommended that it should be handled by the most efficient partners. Do BSNL, RailTel and Power Grid have the proven ability to handle such big projects? The ailing BNSL has just lost millions of mobile connections.
The new Government has decided that this project will be completed in the coming 3 years with a Capex of Rs 20,100 crore.
NOFN infrastructure connectivity will be supplemented by the Government User Network (GUN) as an overlay on NOFN. This project will be an IT layer atop the telecom layer from district HQ to all Gram Panchayats. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 4,900 crore as Capex and Rs 2,500 crore per annum as Opex for a period of 10 years.
The Government is taking steps to offer mobile to uncovered 44,000 villages by 2018. This is a good initiative though it will be achieved after 4 years. Can telecom minister bring in private telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Vodafone and Reliance Communications, whose first priority is to connect lucrative locations? India wants immediate action. BJP Government should not think 2019 LS elections as the target for its achievements.
The Government-owned BSNL will install 1836 mobile towers to connect the unconnected areas in the states affected by naxal attacks with a Capex of Rs 3,567 crore to be funded by USOF.
North East region will get Rs 5336 crore from USOF for mobile connectivity.
Around 2.5 lakh persons have registered as users on MyGov Online Platform and about one lakh comments have been received on group discussions.
The government said Aadhaar enabled biometric attendance system is under implementation in all Central Government offices in Delhi.
IT platform for Messages (Sampark) offers contact details of elected representatives and government employees.
The government is developing a secured email to increase its usage within the Government system, by March, 2015.
Wi-Fi in all Universities, public Wi-fi Hotspots, Schools Books to be e-Books and SMS based Weather Information & Disaster alerts will be implemented by the other Central Ministries concerned, in the coming months.
Pix source: Cisco