New Delhi | Scaling on the optical fibre network, the nation is all set to march on the digital path this week when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches a Rs one lakh crore programme aimed at wiping out the digital divide.
The programme, envisaged by Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), with coordination with ministry of communications & IT, ministry of rural development, ministry of human resource development, ministry of health and others, will benefit all states and Union territories.
The existing ongoing e-Governance initiatives would be revamped for the alignment with the principles of Digital India. The vision of the programme is to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. It would ensure that government services are available to citizens electronically.
It also plans to usher in public accountability through mandated delivery of governments services electronically. The week-long campaign will be marked by events spread over a week, starting from July 1, during which various activities will be organised under the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM).
The aim is to educate the government employees, including the Angadwadi employees, Asha workers, government officers, and residents about the use of online facilities of the government. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said recently the impact of Digital India by 2019 would range from broadband connectivity in all panchayats, Wi-fi in schools and universities and public Wi-Fi hotspots.
The programme will generate huge number of IT, Telecom and Electronics jobs, both directly and indirectly. Success of this programme will make India digitally empowered and the leader in usage of IT in delivery of services related to various domains such as health, education, agriculture, banking, he added.
Amid growing fancy for Digital India, many professionals air scepticism whether the ubiquitous broadband will be available to them or they will face frequent breakdowns in systems despite paying high cost for the internet connections. Their apprehensions stem from the fact that telecom companies after paying higher cost for the spectrum in open bidding will pass on the cost to consumers.
Once the Digital India campaign picks up steam, the net enabled services will certainly transform the lives of people in long run, ending the digital divide in the society.Wizards of the sector say for that, the government will have to fine tune its policies regarding telecom and data services to make it cheaper and affordable. More spectrum is bound to be made available.
The defence ministry has agreed to release some spectrum per circle. But the bidding issue stares at the sector, which feels cheaper net availability should be ensured to make the programme more successful. Digital India, which is a flagship programme of this government, is being executed in a mission mode. Official sources said that the broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats is also being pursued vigorously to ensure its availability to every nook and corner.
The work on laying of the optical fibre network has been speeded up by 30 times in last months. NOFN will support e-governance services, telemedicine, tele education, financial services .e-commerce and e entertainment, and will provide non discriminatory access. Idduki district in Kerala has already become the first fully connected.
However, amid all the hype and hoopla the questions remains How will the district administration in hinterland bridge the gap between residents of urban areas with Internet connectivity at their disposal, though inadequate, and those living in rural areas, where the online world is yet to expand its sway?
Also, all the public services being provided in the 22 recently opened Common Service Centres (CSCs) of the district are Internet-based and cannot function in the absence of net connectivity. With no Internet connectivity in hilly areas, the online services at CSCs remain ineffective.
Mr Prasad said the Modi government wants to ensure a smartphone in the hands of every citizen by 2019. Currently, nearly 74 per cent of the population has mobile phones, most of which though is in the hands of urban India. We want to ensure that all the services can be provided through a mobile handset, especially, health, education, various government services and retail, Mr Prasad said.
Referring to his consultations with global corporate honchos, Mr Prasad said companies such as American network equipment maker Cisco Systems wanted to access benefits of cluster manufacturing.
Facebook has also expressed interest in partnering with the government in delivering governance programmes such as e-education, he said, referring to his meeting two months ago with the US social media company’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Industry analysts are of the opinion NOFN has to meet its deadline if next generation connectivity (NGN) has to become a reality soon.
Government is implementing the venture through state-run public sector units Bharat Sanchar Nigam, Power Grid Corporation and RailTel though there were suggestions that the private sector may be roped in for faster implementation .
Common service centres in villages will serve as critical pivots around which most goods and services will be delivered. Once connected to broadband, an entire village’s requirements of goods can be placed through these centres and people can use these facilities as one-stop shop for all their e-needs, said a senior official at the telecom department.
But for the success of Digital India campaign, the government would rely heavily on the IT industry and their involvement in process of setting up the platform for a big leap in connectivity which will ultimately bridge the wide gap and make India a wired country.