In a move to widen the reach of Internet to the far-flung areas of the country, the government plans to implement the ‘Saubhagya’ model of electricity to compliment its BharatNet, the national rural broadband connectivity project. Cabinet secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha and Communications secretary Aruna Sundararajan have reportedly discussed the feasibility of using this model to ensure Internet connectivity reaches to the rural masses.
ET quoted a senior official, as saying, “The government has electrified all villages of the country by laying power lines and is now implementing ‘Saubhagya’ scheme to ensure electricity reaches all four crore unelectrified homes by end of 2018. Internet should follow the same analogy.”
The government adopted ‘Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana’ or ‘Saubhagya’ scheme in September last year with a budget allocation of $2.39 Bn (INR 16,320 Cr) to ensure the last-mile electricity connectivity to all unelectrified households by 2018-end.
Besides other unelectrified households across states in the country, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for over half of the unelectrified households. The Saubhagya scheme aims to electrify almost 1.33 crore households for UP and close to 32 Lakhs of households in Bihar.
The idea of BharatNet initiative (formerly, National Optical Fibre Network) was conceived in 2012. The project is being funded through the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). The Phase-I of the project, with an outlay of $1.64 Bn (INR 11,200 Cr), is said to have provided Internet connectivity to one lakh GPs (gram panchayats)across the country.
The Phase-II of BharatNet, and final phase, commenced in November last year. The Budget 2018 has added $1.47 Bn (INR 10K Cr), up from $4.99 Bn (INR 34K Cr) to provide broadband connectivity to 1.5 Lakh remaining gram panchayats (village councils) by March 2019.
As per Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL) Annual Report 2016-2017, equipment has been installed in 100,364 GPs, of which 96,039 GPs are service-ready, 59,124 are service-open, and 103,768 panchayats have end-to-end connectivity. The BBNL website, last updated at the time of writing this report, marks over 1,09,577 gram panchayats as service-ready.
Inc42 earlier reported Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha saying, “Phase-II of BharatNet will be completed ahead of time.”
Meanwhile, the Internet penetration in the country has seen a steady rise. Recently, a Google-BCG report suggested that digital spending by consumers is expected to grow nearly 2.5 times to $100 Bn by 2020. A report titled ‘Internet in India 2017’ expects the number of Internet users in India to reach 500 Mn by June 2018. Currently, the number of Internet users in India is around 450 Mn – 465 Mn.
In 2016, the government managed to connect around 80,000 GPs through WiFi hotspots. Further, the centre wants Internet connectivity to reach public institutions in villages such as schools, post offices, police stations and medical institutions, etc.