A mosque in Ramanagara, a small town about 30 km from Bengaluru, could soon serve as an internet hub for the entire region, helping bridge the digital divide between the ancient town and its hi-tech neighbour.

Ramanagara will not be alone. About 10,000 small towns and remote villages will see temples and mosques turn into internet hubs as part of Tata Communications’ plans to bring high-speed connectivity to rural India. “We want to deliver broadband-quality internet for a few dollars a month in rural India. Our research shows that mosques and temples are the largest congregation points in Indian villages, and thus can easily act as a focal point for connectivity in these places,” Julie Woods-Moss, Tata Communications’ Chief Marketing Officer and CEO of NextGen Business, told BusinessLine in an interview.

The use of mosques and temples as internet hubs in villages was among the ideas short-listed at ‘Shape the Future’, a programme to crowd-source new ideas from employees.

“The vision of one of the participating teams was to make stable internet connectivity available to some parts of rural India by leveraging Tata Communications’ network reach and strength. While we do not directly operate in the broadband/WiFi space, there is scope to partner with other players who operate in this space and make this vision a reality,” said Woods-Moss.

Instead of competing with companies such as Google and Microsoft, who are trying to achieve the same goal in India, Woods-Moss said the industry should pool-in resources and work together to build this infrastructure.

“I challenge my friends at Microsoft, Google, Facebook — why can’t we come together with that mindset of digital inclusion,” she said.In the sub-sea cable business, usually 4-5 players come together to build the infrastructure, which helps in getting the funding while also ensuring the infrastructure remains intact even if one of the companies shuts down or exits, she said. “We can have a similar collaboration for digital inclusion.”

Tata Communications, she said, is in talks with large Internet companies to collaborate on such projects in India. “I think what happens in India will potentially be a catalyst for improving collaboration,” Woods-Moss added.

Evaluating new tech

Tata Communications, which owns about one-fourth of all global internet pipes, is evaluating technologies such as White-Fi, currently being tested by Microsoft in some Indian villages. The technology uses unlicensed TV spectrum to connect to the Internet.

Another technology being considered is Wireless Mesh.

Woods-Moss, however, insisted that the company will not apply for any broadband licence to offer these services.

“While the idea is to enable a truly connected India and remove the barriers the rural areas face, it is still an idea in progress. Partnerships will be key to rolling this out and we are currently looking at various options,” she said.

“As of now, there are no plans to apply for separate licences as this is not Tata Communications’ area of play.”