While an ambitious project in itself, the digitisation scheme of the current government is too far-fetched to be completed by 2019, without getting the basics of a fast and efficient cross-country wifi network in place first.
2016 truly gave India a chance to revamp the global lexicon. We came up with our own brand early on—‘Digital India’—and followed it up in the same breath with the inclusion of hefty words such as ‘demonetisation’ and ‘digitisation’. It is all tied to global stardom for the country, a power from above assures us. All this while we fret over our obsolete smartphones and try to find a way out of the maze of payment-related apps being launched every day. The whole of it (constantly amplified by news channels as a fiasco) takes place against the backdrop of Reliance’s Jio confidently announcing the rollback of its free wifi services post March, 2017. India is well and truly on the global platform now. It just has a slight limp.
The premise of digitisation rests singularly on our access to fast and affordable wifi connectivity. While Eastern Europe and countries like Lithuania boast of some of the highest broadband speeds, South Korea passed the hundred per cent wifi penetration mark way back in 2012. These are significant red blinkers for India. It still considers any modest speed above 512 kbps to be ‘broadband’. In other countries, this speed is as high as 10 to 50 mbps. However, an increase in speed and connectivity cannot be achieved overnight. It will involve a complete renovation of the cross-country network of expensive optic fibre pipes which haul the bits and in turn provide the speed. The demand is not just for ‘free’ wifi but efficient wifi.
CP has turned out to be the prime example of things going awry for a scheme which aspires to connect over 2,00,000 villages by 2019. The ground reality is mired in municipality disputes. Despite floating tenders multiple times, the authorities have not heard from respondents for a project which would have made the high-end hangout hub a fully wifi-enabled zone. For now, it’s back to expensive data packs for those of us who can splurge two hundred bucks a month for basic speed. For others, at the moment, even the thought of shelling out a four figure sum for a mobile phone sounds like a nightmare.
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