The government may emulate the ‘Saubhagya’ model of electricity distribution in rural areas to widen the scope of its national broadband project and help every village home surf the web, senior officials aware of the plan said. India’s broadband project, ‘BharatNet’, envisages delivering broadband connectivity to 250,000 gram panchayats (village councils), and the Centre is now deliberating that the project should not stop there but also provide internet connection to every village home.
Under ‘Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana’, or ‘Saubhagya’, electricity is to be provided to nearly 40 million village homes by the end of this year.
The officials cited earlier told ET that cabinet secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha and secretary, communications, Aruna Sundararajan, have discussed the feasibility of using this model to bridge the internet connectivity gap.
The deadline for rollout of optical fibre under BharatNet is March 2019, but the Centre hopes to achieve this by the end of the year. So far, about 150,000 gram panchayats have been linked.
According to the officials, the Centre wants internet connectivity to reach public institutions in villages such as schools, post offices, police stations and medical institutions, and even further, and that enabling infrastructure should be created through the public private partnership (PPP) mode or other business models to ensure that Wi-Fi connectivity reaches every home in all villages.
“The government has electrified all villages of the country by laying power lines and is now implementing ‘Saubhagya’ scheme to ensure electricity reaches all 4 crore unelectrified homes by end of 2018. Internet should follow the same analogy,” one of the senior officials cited earlier said.
The thinking is that the government should not be satisfied with broadband just reaching a village, like in case of power lines and electricity poles, but also create enabling infrastructure to make it reach every household in a village.
The move is seen deepening internet penetration in the country which, as of September last year, stood at a dismal 33.22 subscribers per 100 persons.
The communications ministry is said to have started working with states to set up community Wi-Fi hotspots in villages and provide broadband connectivity to all key public institutions in these areas.
The ₹42,068-crore BharatNet project, started in 2012 as National Optical Fibre Network (NoFN) project, has logged slow progress. Its first phase of connecting 100,000 gram panchayats was completed only last year. Work on the second phase is currently on.