From the Viewsroom

Tech needs to be inclusive

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on February 03, 2020

The Budget proposals are welcome, but rural IT infra needs focus

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s second Budget does set aside generous sums for the technology sector. Chief among the proposals is an outlay of ₹8,000 crore over the next five years for setting up a National Mission on Quantum Technology and Applications. Even though the government has allocated ₹6,000 crore for Bharat Net, the Centre’s work-in-progress rural broadband connectivity programme (the minister has said one lakh gram panchayats will get fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) Internet connections under Bharat Net scheme in one year), the government’s focus evidently lies on disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet-of-Things (IoT), data analytics and quantum computing.

That’s good news. But it would have made much more sense if the FM had allocated more resources for improving rural IT infrastructure. It is no secret that big businesses are least interested in catering to the bottom of the pyramid when it comes to data business, sparing the obvious exception of Reliance Jio whose low-cost mobile data plans triggered the current boom in data in India. Hence, it becomes the duty of the government to ensure villages have access to high-speed broadband.

Government telcos have been a failure at providing fast Internet to the people. It was outliers such as ACT that changed the game. Anecdotal evidence shows that Bharat Net continues to proceed at a snail’s-pace, despite the fact that the government has been pushing every other service into the digital domain, forcing citizens to fill out forms electronically, access information online and communicate about grievances in real time via the Web. At the current levels of data speed, this is a tall order. Just last December, India stood 128th (11.46 mbps) on Ookla’s Global Speedtest Index for mobile Internet speeds and the ranking was 67 (42.14 mbps) for fixed broadband. The index is a monthly ranking of nearly 140 countries.

If you consider rural areas separately, India’s ranking would go down further. This must change.

Published on February 03, 2020

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