Wednesday 26 August 2015

Digital India Mission - Complete Detail

Digital India attempts the most ambitious and inclusive (voice, data, hi-tech manufacturing, controls and other services) connectivity. This brilliant programme is an amalgam of three older ones - like NOFN 
Problems with NOFN: aimed to deliver broadband to all, the National Optical Fibre Network Plan (NOFN) is badly structured. It’s being implemented through a PSU supervised by the ministries of telecom, power and railways. Such multiple controls and the monopoly environment can deliver absolutely nothing. Naturally, this network has perpetually moving targets of completion — 2013, 2014, and now 2019 ---> The present programme’s priorities are totally wrong. We should first concentrate on subscriber connectivity to the existing 35,000 fibre ends. This delivery mode will give us ideas, models and rates to connect all 2.5 lakh fibre ends to consumers through the modified NOFN.]

Digital India is a programme to prepare India for a knowledge future
  • by transforming India into a digitally empowered society and
  • knowledge economy by making technology central to
    enabling change 
Salient Feature of DI
  • NOFN to 250K gram panchayats via internet
  • Finish by 2019
  • DI committee comprising of many ministers will monitor
  • Contemplates creation of massive infrastructure --> high speed internet at gram level, e-availability of major government services like health, education, security, justice, financial inclusion etc. 
  • e-Pramaan for public answerability of government  through fully online delivery of services
  • Boost for electronic industry
Thrust areas

Is it new Scheme?
  • No. It is an amalgam of three ongoing programmes:
    • National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN)
    • National Knowledge Network
    • e-governance initiative. 
  • What's new?
    • DI seeks to provide broadband access to all and deliver all manner of services to the citizen’s doorstep by 2019! A tough task.
  • What is this Broadband and what are its requirements?
    • Broadband refers to the high speeds at which users can access the internet. In Indian context Broadband means 512 kbps (In other countries currently range from 10 to 50 mbps) --> For this we need Many things and that too in sync:
      • National network (pipe) capable of carrying large quantities of bits at very fast speeds --> SO we have NOFN. 
      • Adequate Access Spectrum (the basic ingredient of mobile communication)
      • Backhaul spectrum (to haul communication from the fringe of the network to the main pipe), 
      • Laying the network involves right of way (RoW) issues. 
        • The charges levied by municipal bodies for RoW are huge and clearances are cumbersome. 
        • In many cities, RoW charges are five to 20 times (if not more) of the cost of the fibre being laid.

Present Situation of DI
  • Rankings
    • India ranks 125th in the world for wired broadband penetration, with 1.2 per 100 inhabitants having access; the global average is 9.4. 
    • In wireless broadband, India is ranked 113th, with a penetration of 3.2 per 100 inhabitants.
    • India is among the 42 classified as least-connected countries.
  • The NOFN is well behind schedule and the major reasons are
    • Availability of spectrum
    • Towers have become a big hurdle in most urban settings owing to potential health hazards - which are not yet scientifically proven. 
    • Optical fibre that was laid some time ago, has become unusable.
  • Demand and Supply problem
    • BSNL’s optical fibre cable network is extensive across districts and blocks but this has not translated into the delivery of broadband because Supply does not create its own demand. 
    • The demand for broadband is determined by the affordability of devices, the cost of internet access, and, most important, the availability of useful programmes/ applications that cater to local needs in local languages
  • Without software, even affordability pales into insignificance.
    • Only sporadic efforts by few state governments and the private sector, nothing really meaningful on e-governance has been delivered over the past decade. 
    • The repeated chanting of the mantra of e-health and e-education has not delivered any usable programmes. 
    • The development of these applications cannot be left to the government’s IT boffins.
  • Availability of financial resources and the appropriateness of institutional structures. 
    • The USOF (the institution to finance DI) has no independence. 
    • Bureaucratic processes.
    • Contributions to the USOF are non-lapsable. DI entails resources of Rs 1,20,000 crore (or more) over four years. This is roughly 10 per cent of all government resources in a year. 
    • Now, consider the institutional arrangements for executing the NOFN. It is a three-layer system: 
      • the USOF gives money to BBNL; 
      • this PSU in turn passes on resources to BSNL, RAILTEL and Power Grid, the actual executing agencies.
 There are various issues like inadequate spectrum, high spectrum price, non-availability of contiguous spectrum, non-allocation of backhaul spectrum, etc, as well as the government auctioning spectrum in small chunks. For Digital India, larger chunks of spectrum are required.
  • The competitive regime should lead to low tariffs. If it doesn’t, subsidisation at the consumer’s end can be considered. To ensure cheap tariffs, last-mile connectivity in areas close to fibre ends should be encouraged through free Wifi and similar technologies on free spectrum. Delivery through 3G, 4G, and maybe 5G, at the operators’ end, in the last mile, should also be made easy with minimum cost regulations.
  • To increase availability, harmonisation of spectrum among users is required, without extra levies. The policy should also allow automatic M&As to bring companies to an optimum size and number, with appropriate higher quantities of spectrum available on merger for efficient delivery of broadband and other services.
  • We need to encourage the deployment of newer technologies and IP-based networks for delivering converged and inclusive services.
  • Successful implementation can only happen in a converged environment, not in the present fragmented one. The existing policy and licensing regime will have to be given up and, as in most communication-efficient countries, we have to move to a totally converged network designed to seamlessly deliver all kinds of services — not individual services on different nationwide networks and regulatory systems.
  • V IMP ---->
    The network today is full of contradictions. The National Telecom Policy 2012 speaks of convergence. However, interrelated sectors like telecom, broadcasting and IT are governed by different policies, licensing frameworks, FDI norms, cross-holding restrictions, etc. Even the present unified licensing regime falls short of imparting true flexibility to the licence-holder. Separate infrastructure and rules lead to wastage of resources and high costs.
    The convergence of networks and regulations is a must
  • To encourage technological innovation, light-touch regulations are required and the government has to monitor only for major violations related to security. All of this would be possible in a changed and modified version of the Convergence Bill, 2001, earlier drafted by legal luminary Fali Nariman.
  • Focus on infrastructure, resources, institutional restructuring and policy
  • Greater amount of spectrum
  • Nationwide decision on RoW
  • USOF has to have much greater independence to hasten decision-making. 
  • Resource constraint can become critical.
  • Institutional arrangements to implement the NOFN need immediate revamping
  • The same goes for the USOF, and the Wireless Planning and Coordination wing of the ministry of communications, responsible for spectrum management. 
  • More transparency, less secrecy
  • Amidst the ongoing endorsements by global corporate heads of the Digital India programme, we should not forget that unless use of digital technologies is appealing and makes sense to an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) in a village health sub-centre, an anganwadi worker, a teacher in a government primary school, a village accountant in the revenue department, an agriculture assistant, a fair-price shop owner and a food inspector and similar such frontline service providers, who are the face of the state for many of our fellow citizens, the promise of leveraging digital technologies for achieving sustainable development may continue to elude us. I hope the torchbearers of the Digital India programme will also attach equal importance to this latter constituency as they march forward in their journey of integrating digital technologies in Indian life spaces.
    • India ranked 55 out of 76 countries in the Global Hunger Index last year, behind Nepal. Half of rural India lives in kuccha houses and works as casual manual labour. And these lives are supposedly going to be transformed by the magic wand of broadband access (which stands at 1.2 per cent of the population now).
    • we are in a conjuncture in which 71 per cent of rural India owns mobile phones while 75 per cent of it lives on Rs. 33 per day. 
As conceived and publicly announced, DI is simply not doable by 2019. A more realistic goal would be to connect some (not all) areas and deliver high-speed broadband; and provide some essential and locally valued services in as many rural areas as possible. We can certainly start showing results by 2019 with a lower scale of ambition.


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