‘NOFN will be the digital backbone of India’

KPM Basheer Kochi | Updated on January 09, 2018

A file photo of Aruna Sundararajan, Telecom Secretary

The ₹30,000-cr project will help double the optical fibre capacity, says BBNL chief

Aruna Sundararajan, former Kerala IT Secretary, who left her footprints on the State’s e-governance and e-literacy, is now part of the Digital India vision.

She heads Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), which is tasked with building the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) that aims to take high-speed broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats.

She is also the administrator for the Universal Service Obligation Fund, which currently has a whopping ₹38,000 crore in its kitty.

“India is in for a giant leap forward in the telecom sector in another three years when every single gram panchayat will be hooked on NOFN,” Sundararajan told BusinessLine. “This will be a big game-changer in the telecom sector and it will accelerate socio-economic development in rural India.” Excerpts:

How is NOFN going to impact life in the villages?

NOFN is a critical component of the Digital India vision which aims for digital empowerment of the people. It will bring massive changes in the lives of rural people — agriculture, health, education, marketing of farm produce and so on.

For instance, imagine a farmer who sells his vegetables online to a restaurant on the platform provided by Flipkart or Amazon. He does not have to transport his produce on a truck to the marketplace; does not have to store them in a warehouse; does not have to employ workers to do a lot of sundry work involved in the selling process.

As of now, this is not possible as most of the villages are not digitally connected and only a quarter of the villages have mobile coverage. The NOFN project will bring in a revolution to e-commerce and online retailing. It will link the farmers and other rural producers to the market.

It will also give a boost to e-governance and to the citizen-government interface, and will bring in huge changes in entertainment, music and cinema.

The ₹30,000-crore project will help almost double the optical fibre capacity in three years. NOFN will be the digital backbone of the nation.

Where do the funds come from?

The project is funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund of India, a body on the lines of such agencies in the US and other countries.

By law, the telecom service providers pay a levy of five per cent of their annual gross revenue to the fund for providing telecom services to ‘people in rural and remote areas at affordable and reasonable prices’. The annual accrual is ₹8,000-9,000 crores and it has so far received ₹38,000 crores.

What are some of the other projects?

Apart from NOFN, we fund a ₹5,000-crore project to build telecom infrastructure in ‘Left-wing’ districts in ten States. The lack of telecom infrastructure is considered as a hindrance to curbing extremist activities. An ₹8,000-crore project, exclusively for mobile coverage in the Northern Himalayan region and areas such as Rajasthan and Gujarat, is already on.

When the ₹20,000-crore infrastructure project for mobile coverage is over, not a single village will be without mobile coverage. USOF, a quasi-independent agency, designs projects and oversees their implementation in accordance with its mandate of providing affordance telecom services in the remote areas.

When will NOFN be completed?

In about three years. Kerala will be the first State to go on NOFN. In March, all the 1,000-odd gram panchayats in Kerala will be connected to NOFN. We could do this because Kerala already has good rural connectivity.

There is high e-literacy in Kerala and hence people are willing to take to the Internet. Also, use of smartphones is extensive in Kerala. In two years, the entire Kerala population will move to smartphones.

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Published on December 31, 2014
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