India has almost 700 million internet users now, thanks to the steady increase in internet penetration. The Net has become a basic need for the people, and the pandemic has precipitated this need. Today, an average household requires 20 GB internet a day.
However, there is still a digital divide, which has only grown wider between urban and rural users. While the number of rural subscribers is significant, it is still not even half that of urban users. Though the 4G/3G mobile networks have made basic internet access affordable, the consumption requirements remain unfulfilled. Globally, 80 per cent of internet is consumed inside homes. At 7 per cent, India lags far behind in home internet penetration — in China it is 92 per cent and in countries like Russia and Brazil, it is 55 per cent.
To bridge this digital gap between urban and rural population, the Centre launched the PM WANI initiative, which aims to make internet affordable and easily accessible by all. This will help in the proliferation of public Wi-Fi networks throughout the country, which will help boost internet access at low cost.
Lack of access points or internet hotspots in all locations is another issue. This results in non-uniform access to the internet, causing a further increase in the digital divide.
To address this, PM WANI has created a framework whereby anyone can set up a public Wi-Fi or a public data office (PDO). The entity that wants to become a PDO can purchase a broadband service from a service provider and then register itself with an aggregator or PDOA who is responsible for authorisation and accounting. This would allow access points to grow organically in places that need them the most.
Also, if there is an extra internet connection that one does not plan to use, it can be sold to friends, neighbours or even strangers. This approach leads to 10X better utilisation of existing infrastructure and opens up affordable internet for millions.
PM WANI has come at the right time, paving the way for opportunities for all.
The writer is Founder, i2e1