To promote local manufacturing, the Telecom Commission proposes to use only ‘Made-In-India’ products for the rural mobile phone project.

Called Bharat Mobile scheme, households where at least one member has completed 100 days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in 2012 will be eligible for the phone.

3-year scheme

Women will be given preference and the scheme is proposed to be completed in three years.

The Telecom Commission has, however, suggested that the criteria for selecting the households should not be based on wage employment scheme such as MNREGA but to an entitlement-based scheme. The Commission decided that once the mechanism for identification of beneficiaries is specified, the proposal would be placed before the Cabinet for approval.

Telcos invited

According to the blueprint being finalised, telecom companies will be invited to bid for the project. State governments will provide list of eligible citizens for each village. The selected operator will have to provide mobile phone, a connection and access to service centres.

While the service will be given free to rural users, the operators will get subsidy from the Government based on the bidding. Distribution of the phones will be done by the operators in coordination with the district administration. The phone will have authentication software to ensure that only the intended user would be able to access the services. Access to health records, land records and payment transfers would be enabled through this phone.

As of now only Nokia has a significant manufacturing capability in India. Other phone makers, including Indian brands, currently rely on imports. The DoT is hoping that the scale of the rural project could entice some of the players to set up manufacturing here.

Tablet project

The Commission has, however, deferred a decision on the proposal for giving tablet devices to higher secondary students in government schools across the country at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore. The Commission observed that the agency that will execute the project should be thought through. It was suggested that the scheme could be considered only for Central government schools or initially for girls’ schools funded by the Central Government.

The original scheme was aimed at benefiting some 90 lakh students who will also get for two years free 500 MB data usage, 75 SMS and 75 minutes of talk-time every month. The project will be implemented by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd in four phases spread over three years. Justifying the project, the Telecom Department had said, “Tablet devices are increasingly becoming powerful and compact tools for computation and accessing multi-media content and services available on the Internet. They can become an asset to students by providing access to education related content.”

“However, the cost of the tablet and data connection may not be affordable to students studying in government schools. Hence, Government support would be necessary. The scheme will open up new opportunities for education and knowledge acquisition,” it added in a note to the Telecom Commission.

Each tablet is estimated to cost around Rs 4,500. Sixty per cent of the project cost will be financed by the Universal Services Obligation Fund, while the balance will come from the Government. The Commission will review the project after DoT reviews the suggestions made.

thomas.thomas@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on September 18, 2013)
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