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Cyber access for common man just a click away

Department of Telecommunication note reveals government plan to provide broadband services for masses to tap new markets.

Published: 26th May 2013 10:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th May 2013 10:41 AM   |  A+A-

Telecommunication

After the success of the direct cash transfer scheme, the UPA government is planning to connect the common man, struggling at the bottom of the economic pyramid, to cyberspace.

In between these big ticket social schemes lies a hope that empowered people will bring them back to power in 2014. The government is targeting 11 lakh rural schools, 12.5 lakh aanganwadi centres and over 1.5 lakh health centres for its cyber revolution, which, in the next five to 10 years, will bridge the digital divide while reaping the benefits of untapped markets.

An internal note of DoT accessed by The Sunday Standard reveals that UPA has shortlisted two models to provide broadband access to people living in Bharat under its Bharat Broadband scheme which may cost the national  exchequer Rs 20,000 crore per year.

The note says the two models—BSNL’s Commercial Model and Closed User Group (CUG) Model—under government’s consideration will provide the common man broadband access as a tool to achieve greater self sufficiency. Pointing out reasons for spending huge amount of money for its cyber plan, it says the present telephone infrastructure is in a state of saturation and the industry is not in a position to invest on its upgrade even for voice services, let alone for Internet services.

“Broadband to the last mile, including panchayats, should therefore be viewed as a social responsibility and as a tool for building an enabling ecosystem for inclusive growth for a period of 5-10 years. During this period, economic viability will start showing up, when industry could come up in a big way,” the note stated.

But there are hurdles. The note which was debated by senior officials last month, raises serious doubts over the efficiency of BSNL’s commercial model which will cost Rs n only 2.5 lakh schools will cost government the Rs 2000 crore annually. “As this model is based on charging individual access points and is that sense a ‘retail’ model, it is not possible to optimise the collective government usage and cut down the cost.”

Although the government is worried about the role of various stakeholders in the entire plan, it is considering the entire exercise as not for profit venture in the initial stages, which could be later exploited for gains. It observed that all stakeholders including telecom service providers are operating in their own silos and need to be convinced about a collaborative approach which would provide level playing field to grow their businesses. Note says in a society where a large community is not even aware of the cyberspace, there is no way they will pay to use broadband from the outset.  DoT told the government that broadband and mobile phones cannot be compared, as the skill set threshold for exploiting broadband services is significantly higher than for mobile services.

The DoT is also looking at the alternative model of CUG to provide services based on leveraging the existing National Knowledge Network which provides link to every district headquarters. According to the note, if government adopts the CUG model, costs will come down from Rs 20,000 crore to Rs 8, 150 crore per annum.



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