The Narendra Modi government has launched the Digital India initiative and has instructed the Department of Telecom to provide wi-fi access to public in cities with more than 1 million population. The Department of Telecom has identified 45 cities and 705 tourist locations to provide Wi-Fi services in public areas in India. Recently even BSNL started offering free Wi-fi in Varanasi.
Discussions with private telecom operators to roll out the network required for the services have been initiated. The government is looking to free up the 60 GHz spectrum band for Wi-Fi, which will allow operators to use this spectrum without any licence fee or spectrum charge. In the meantime, telecom players, including Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices, have given rough estimates of around Rs -50 lakh to offer internet services at 512 kbps to 500 users simultaneously in a 2500 square metre area.
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On the other hand, the DoT is planning to fund the capital required through the Universal Services Obligation while the operational expense will be met through user fees. The 45 cities identified are all with more than 10 lakh population. The Commissioner of Municipal Corporations will identify 10 public places in each city. Once this facility is set up, users will be able to watch their favourite movie or listen to live streaming music on their phones and tablets even if they do not have a 3G or 4G connection.
The service offered will be agnostic to which operator is managing the network in a specific place. Users will be able to access internet through an SMS-based authentication. This is part of the Digital India project being monitored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The centre aims to expand its rural internet coverage to 250,000 villages by 2017 from the existing 130,000. In two years, 150,000 post offices will be transformed into multi-utility centres (providing a range of government services, banking for instance, and not just postal services). Some 250,000 government schools will get broadband and free WiFi and all schoolbooks will have e-versions.
However, the digital drive is also integral to the government’s plan to create 100 smart cities. Under the plan, all cities with a population of more than a million will get public WiFi hotspots. All government communication will move to a universal secure email client. Currently, Wi-Fi-enabled internet services are available only within select campuses, malls and airports.
For the government, the digital push could bring immediate benefits in terms of cost savings in delivery of public services. Cash transfers of pensions alone could trim delivery costs by a third, according to a study commissioned by the previous government. In addition, high-speed broadband is already a critical infrastructure that will transform emerging economies in decades to come.