Indian Government to provide Internet access to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats

The Indian Government has given a go-ahead to the Department of Telecom’s ( DoT) proposal to provide three Internet connections and one WiFi hotspot in each of the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats spread across the country. The measure got approved by the inter-ministerial Telecom Commission (TC) on Friday, according to the reports.

The project is expected to be completed by March 2016 and will use the National Optical Fibre Network(NOFN) being developed by the Government. It has an estimated cost of INR 3,750 Cr to be funded by the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund, and will provide Internet connectivity to a large section of rural India and link crores of villagers to the net.

The NOFN project, with an estimated cost of INR 20,000 Cr, was approved by the government in 2011. The purpose of the project was to provide Internet connectivity at gram panchayat level using existing fibres of PSUs (BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid) and laying incremental fibre wherever necessary.

This recent move by the Government will boost the already rising Internet penetration in rural India. The number of active Internet users in rural India is continuously rising, crossing 46 Mn in Oct 2013 and project to reach 56 Mn by June 2014, according to a recent IAMAI report.    

Further, the Government plans to provide non-discriminatory access to NOFN to all service providers, including telecom service providers (TSPs), internet service providers (ISPs), cable TV operators and content providers. This will mean increased accessibility to various applications like eHealth, eEducation and eGovernance etc. provided by these operators to the rural population.

Currently, according to IAMAI findings, the main reasons for Internet access by rural users include entertainment and communication. Further, 42% prefer to use the net in their local language.

Out of the 1.23 Bn people in India, 889 Mn belong to rural areas, forming a huge but relatively dormant market for eCommerce industry as of now due to limited Internet access and computer literacy. Only 9% of rural Internet users reportedly transact online. But with this move, increased net connectivity will lead to a steep rise in the number of active Internet users from the rural population, opening up a new avenue for the Internet based industries  

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