Recently, a report was published on the leftist propaganda website The Wire, about low Internet usage and active connections in rural areas. Not only the report lacks a basic understanding of technology but also reflects their political bias. The article fails to quote a single credible source and would have done justice had it looked at data in public space including BBNL and BSNL websites, Lok Sabha and RTI replies.
The report was an intellectually dishonest report that aimed to defame an ambitious project in the National interest. The report is patently incorrect and aims to confuse its readers by saying a lot without conveying anything of substance at all.
The National Optical Fibre Network was launched in October 2011 under UPA-II. The binding commitment of the project entailed laying 3 lakh kilometres of the optical fibre to connect all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats at a cost of Rs. 20,000 crores. In a span of 2 years and 5 months, the Manmohan Singh government managed to lay a mere 358 kilometre of optical fibre. Broadband connectivity to every village seemed like a distant dream.
In 2014, the project received a fresh impetus under the aegis of the ‘Digital India’ programme. Making it more relatable and understandable for the rural audience, it was renamed as BharatNet. Mission was to provide digital connectivity in rural areas at affordable prices, along with the provision of B2B services in a non-discriminatory manner, and facilitation in the proliferation of broadband services to rural areas. Since its relaunch, 2,92,304 kilometres of the optical fibre has been laid and over 1.2 lakh Gram Panchayats are availing its services today.
When the project was to be executed, it was decided that BharatNet would act as a middle mile network from block to Gram Panchayats. The existing optic fibre laid by BSNL was planned to be utilized. However, low bandwidth and poor quality cable made the government to replace 50000 kilometres of BSNL optic fibre cable in 2016. Moreover, in 2016 an additional dimension of maintenance and operation of the network was added and BharatNet project provided over INR 350 crores to BSNL for the same.
The promise of providing broadband connectivity to 1 lakh Gram Panchayats made by the Modi Government was fulfilled as per the deadline, in December 2017. In order to increase BharatNet’s accessibility and facilitate better utilization of the infrastructure laid, no stone is being left unturned. In its endeavours to create a bottom-up demand, the centre is providing free broadband connections to every Gram Panchayat for a period of one year. Towards this end, 76,000 FTTH connections have been provided. In addition, a total of 13,292 FTTH connections have been provided at Gram Panchayats for commercial use.
In the primary days, the usage of the Internet in rural areas is bound to be low. Let us use an analogy of electricity. Once you install the electric network in villages and infuse energy through it, there will be a slow increase in its consumption till everyone uses it. Since electricity is acquired first by the urban consumer, their understanding of energy and its usage stands relatively matured by the time it reaches the rural consumer.
Gradually, the rural counterpart is able to comprehend the varied applications of energy and tends to employ a commensurate amount of energy as its urban counterpart. Likewise, the consumption patterns for broadband services also differ between the rural and urban population. It is unreasonable to assume that the amount of data consumed per connection would be the same in both a city and a village. The rural customer is new to the product in the market, he will progressively employ the full potential of the services and let the benefits usher. Nonetheless, over 63,000 GB of data is being consumed per month in Gram Panchayats via the Wifi networks set up.
Prime Minister Modi is re-imagining digital infrastructure at a grand scale which is a matter of pride, nationally and globally. Any infra is built keeping in mind the long-term interest of the nation. Its acceptance and usage will definitely increase progressively. It is intellectual dishonesty to criticize an ambitious, empowering and a game-changing project like BharatNet for the sake of it. Let us not forget, India that lives in its villages– Bharat. Coupled with Common Service Centers, which provide assisted e-government, banking and transaction services, the BharatNet is a revolution, which seeks to digitally empower every Indian.